The Life and Music of Elvis Costello

Complicated Shadows by Graeme Thomson [Canongate]

Books Reviews Elvis Costello
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The Life and Music of Elvis Costello

Not the first to attempt an Elvis Costello biography and unlikely to be the last, British music writer Graeme Thomson sticks to a chronological telling of singer/songwriter Elvis Costello’s life and career. Never strictly a punk, but benefiting from the shifting ground rules for rock stardom brought about by punk rock, Costello shot to fame in the late ’70s alongside other misfits like The Stranglers and The Police.

Complicated Shadows follows Costello’s journey from unknown pub-rocker to popstar, his early musical beginnings and his later left-turns into classical composition and jazz, briefly touching on his romantic and family life— with a few druggy, alcoholic tales of “life on the road” thrown in for good measure.

Claiming to have uncovered new details on Costello’s formative years and later recording sessions, Thompson lays out a mass of minor facts and figures in the hope that by pasting all these snippets of information together, the fully formed Elvis will magically appear. Unfortunately, the more-revealing quotes are culled from existing interviews and without the cooperation of Costello or his inner circle.

Costello floats through the book like a ghost in his own house. His prickly, reclusive nature makes it hard to know if there really is anything more behind the curtain than a talented workaholic, but Thomson’s flat, journalistic style and his timeline-styled approach to the musician’s life fail to enliven the story.

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