Review #430: My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello

Karla Clifton
3 min readAug 22, 2023

#430: My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello

I knew this was Elvis Costello’s debut before reading anything about it. This album just has debut energy. According to RS, Costello wrote this record over “a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album.” And maybe that’s the only way a musician like Elvis Costello could have succeeded in 1977, the same year the Sex Pistols unleashed themselves.

In a shocking twist, Elvis Costello’s real name isn’t Elvis, but Declan Patrick. In fact, Costello first performed as DP Costello, but changed his name shortly before this record. He wasn’t a great Elvis Presley fan or anything — he simply knew that the name would get him more attention than a name like Declan. And Declan wasn’t exactly a supermodel — I don’t think he’s bad-looking, but I once suggested to someone that they looked like Costello and they were quite insulted.

So Costello’s label threw some weight into this record’s success — there are pictures of an Aim Is True billboard on LA’s Sunset Boulevard, crazy for a new artist, especially a British one. He made out pretty good with Cali-country backing band Clover, made up of future members of Huey Lewis & the News and the Doobie Brothers.

I could tell this was a debut because it was so eclectic. Since Costello hasn’t quite figured out what will stick yet, he’s trying on a bunch of different styles: anarchical punk (“Welcome to the Working Week”) and doo-wop (“No Dancing,” “Sneaky Feelings”), rockabilly (“Mystery Dance,” “Waiting For The End Of The World”) and the reggae US addition “Watchin’ The Detectives.” Which made me feel a bit self-conscious about binging NCIS (and CSI: Miami, and NCIS: Hawai’i, and oh-so many hours of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).

Costello makes lots of biblical references, especially for an Englishman, from his declaration that walking on water won’t make him a “Miracle Man” to the revelation that he doesn’t want to “Blame It On Cain” but it just seems to be his turn. Favorite Godly reference was “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” in which a man exchanges a pair of stylish footwear for immortality.

But my favorite songwriting moments came when Costello was being kind of mean. His portrait of “Alison,” a broken-down woman in a supermarket, makes her sound better off dead. “Less Than Zero” is a nastily critical song about British politician (slash fascist) Oswald Mosley, which apparently plays better in the UK than the US. (He actually changed the lyrics to reference Lee Harvey Oswald.) What can I say? I love angry Brits.

Secret Favorite: “Pay It Back,” a song about taking out IOUs on your future success.

Least Favorite: “I’m Not Angry.” The backup singers whispering the word Angry makes me giggle.

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