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Declan Patrick Aloysius McManus, better known by his stage name "Elvis Costello", has been a sometimes popular and always respectable musician and songwriter since the late seventies. He honed his skills playing in the pub rock band Flip City at night while working as a computer operator at Revlon's London branch. Soon after that he signed a contract with fledgling record label Stiff and a new name--an ironic Shout-Out to Elvis Presley (who died soon afterward) and his mother's maiden name.
Costello was initially associated in the public mind with Punk Rock, and in terms of attitude there was a resemblance. (He had enjoyed seeing the Sex Pistols go head to head with morning TV host Bill Grundy.) Musically his closest kinship was to classic sixties pop: The Kinks, Bob Dylan, early Who and especially The Beatles. While he had a troubled relationship with his backup band the Attractions, they were fully able to keep up with his musical vision.
Since 1989 or so, Costello's humor has been less brash and sarcastic, more jocular and self-mocking. His musical output has covered country, jazz, and chamber music.
Television has seen him being banned from Saturday Night Live for a dozen years for changing songs unannounced, subbing for David Letterman during his heart surgery, and appearing As Himself on The Simpsons. Charges that he is an international art thief are still being investigated.
Costello's career provides examples of the following tropes:
- Album Title Drop - My Aim Is True (from a line in "Alison"), Punch the Clock (from "The Greatest Thing"), King of America (from "Brilliant Mistake"), Blood and Chocolate (from "Uncomplicated"), and Brutal Youth (from "Favourite Hour"). And played with on This Year's Model (a line in "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" refers to "last year's model", and another song on the album is titled "This Year's Girl").
- Answer Song - Costello has said that "This Year's Girl" is more or less an answer song to the song "Stupid Girl" by The Rolling Stones.
- Anti-Love Song - Quite a few.
- Artifact Title - The albums Almost Blue and Imperial Bedroom were each titled after one of their intended tracks. Costello then dropped the songs in question from their respective albums, but left the album titles unchanged.
- The Band Minus the Face - The Attractions released Mad About the Wrong Boy, a "solo" album without Costello, in 1980. Costello later covered one of its songs, "Sad About Girls".
- Canon Dis Continuity - Costello hates his 1982 single "Party Party" and has pretty much eradicated it from his discography, refusing to allow it to be included on any of his albums - not even expanded reissues or outtake collections. This includes the two-disc Rhino reissues, which gathered up pretty much every outtake and non-LP track which the compilers could find.
- Careful with That Axe - "ALMOST BEATEN TO THE PUNCH!"
- Checkpoint Charlie - Costello uses the phrase in "Oliver's Army".
- Concept Album - The Juliet Letters is based around the concept of letters, with different songs representing different types of correspondence.
- Creator Backlash - Costello's liner notes to the 1993 reissue of Goodbye Cruel World open with the sentence "Congratulations, you've just bought our worst album". His stance toward the album has softened over time; he still considers the album to have been poorly recorded, but believes the songs themselves were strong.
- Creator Breakdown - While creating Blood and Chocolate, Costello had just had a messy divorce, was going through some trouble with his backing band The Attractions, and was rumored to be drinking an absolutely heroic amount of alcohol to cope. It's one of his bitterest albums, and (to some) one of the most underrated.
- Esperanto, the Universal Language - The credits of Costello's 1986 album Blood and Chocolate are in Esperanto, although some words are misspelled.
- Genre Adultery - Costello doesn't just commit Genre Adultery—he commits Genre Nymphomania. To cite a few examples, he's done an album of country covers (Almost Blue), chamber music (The Juliet Letters), roots rock (King of America, The Delivery Man), jazz (My Flame Burns Blue), classical (Il Sogno), and bluegrass (Secret, Profane & Sugarcane).
- His debut album tends toward a soft, country-rock style (probably due to the backing band, the pub-rock band Clover), and Get Happy is largely based on mid-sixties pop styles such as Tex-Mex, and Motown and Memphis Soul.
- Godwin's Law - "Two Little Hitlers".
- I Have Many Names - Names he's used in his songwriting credits include: Declan McManus, The Imposter, and Napoleon Dymamite.
- Ink Suit Actor - On The Simpsons.
- Last-Note Nightmare - The sudden ending of the already unnerving "Night Rally".
- Lyrical Cold Open - "Mystery Dance", "Accidents Will Happen", "I Hope You're Happy Now", "Next Time Round", "Indoor Fireworks", "Poisoned Rose", and more.
- Lyrical Dissonance - The upbeat music that Costello tends to employ often masks how dark the lyrics are. One example is "Veronica", whose tune is so happy and poppy that you have to pay close attention to the lyrics to get that the song is about an elderly woman with Alzheimer's Disease.
- Those twinkling keyboard riffs in "Green Shirt", which accompany such lyrics as:
Better cut off all identifying labels
Before they put you on the torture table
'Cause somewhere in the Quisling clinic
there's a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes
- An even more well-known example of this trope is "Oliver's Army", an upbeat ABBA-inspired song (no, really) that sounds quite cheerful until you realise it's about sending young working-class men, barely out of school, off to fight (and die) in foreign wars.
- Murder Ballad - His cover of Leon Payne's "Psycho", which overlaps with Nightmare Fuel.
- Nerd Glasses - One of his visual trademarks.
- Non-Appearing Title - "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" would still fit the trope even if you dropped the "No. 4" part.
- "The Long Division" from the Burt Bacharach collaboration also qualifies.
- "Room With No Number" is technically an example of this. The refrain is always sung as "room without a number", never as the exact title phrase.
- Obsession Song - "I Want You".
- Paul McCartney: A sporadic songwriting partnership led to several McCartney/Costello compositions scattered over both artists' albums in the late 80s and early 90s. One of their joint compositions, "Veronica", became one of the biggest hits of Costello's career.
- Protest Song: "Shipbuilding," an anti-Falklands War song.
- Record Producer - As well as the producing credits on his own albums, Costello has also produced albums for The Specials, The Pogues and Squeeze.
- Self-Backing Vocalist - The Attractions/Impostors often provided backing vocals, but Costello provided his own harmony vocals much of the time. One song where this is particularly noticeable is "King Horse".
- Stoic Spectacles
- Stop and Go - "God's Comic".
- Take That/"The Villain Sucks" Song - "Tramp the Dirt Down" is essentially a long anti-Margaret Thatcher rant.
- There's probably only a few songs in Costello's catalogue that aren't Take Thats.
- Textless Album Cover - King of America
- The Troubles - "Oliver's Army".
- Vanilla Edition - Many of his Universal reissues.
- Witch with a Capital B - From "Love Went Mad": "I wish you luck with a capital F."
- Working Title - "Emotional Fascism" for Armed Forces
- Wrote the Book - "Every Day I Write The Book"