Song Of The Day 2/6/2017: Elvis Costello & the Attractions – “Man Out of Time”


You Pick The Artist - The Final Picking -- And finally, Amy Vasquez gave me Elvis Costello. Which raises the question: Why'd it take you guys so long to suggest I do Elvis Costello? Seriously! This is the sixth You Pick The Artist feature and we're just now getting to the artist who's affected my personal musical profile more than any other? You guys knew this, right? You know I've saddled my son Hank with the middle name "Declan" for posterity and this is not a coincidence, correct? What gives, hive mind?

On the other hand, well, you couldn't ask for a better, more appropriate ending to the whole You Pick The Artist series. I'm sorry. I take all that back. You guys are canny dramatists. You obviously knew what you were doing.

Knowing Elvis' output from My Aim Is True through The Juliet Letters as thoroughly as I do (I confess to dropping off a little after that, though he didn't), being able to quote all Elvis' Columbia-era lyrics as I can (except for Goodbye Cruel World but even Elvis excuses that one), I actually do have a favorite song by him and I didn't have to deliberate at all.

I first saw Elvis perform something from the album Imperial Bedroom on David Letterman's show back in '82. The song was "Kid About It." I'd only known Get Happy!! at that point and heard some other tracks of his on the radio, but right away I knew he'd turned another corner with this one. Steve Nieve's piano was more prominent and delicate; it was a jazz ballad in disguise. So I picked up Imperial Bedroom not long after that (no doubt swayed by the famous ads for it that Columbia put out which simply bore the well-meant but cliff-hung copy "Masterpiece?") and was fascinated almost immediately. It was the first album for which Elvis provided printed lyrics on the inner sleeve; to prevent the appearance of full concession to industry norms at the time, though, he put all the lyrics in one long paragraph like a rambling telegram.

"Man Out of Time" was arguably the centerpiece of Imperial Bedroom. It opens and closes with snarling, loud quotes from the original version of the song, which was more snarling and louder than the version that made it on record. (I think I heard the original version once, and remember knowing why they switched it out.) In between is a narrative involving members of British high society caught in some form of creeping self-analysis and mordant, unrealized dread. Love is involved. Beyond that I don't know what it means. Even the hook is unanswerable: "To murder my love is a crime/but will you still love a man out of time." I think he's talking about a man who's run out of time. But he could also be a man that comes from another time. Or a man consumed by time. There's no clear answer what anybody's doing or thinking or how they end up. Just a rash of quips and details that adds up to neatly arranged uneasiness that maybe gets blown up by the return of the loud rock in the end. So with all that information -- and the lack of information -- I think it's pretty easy to see why this one's my favorite Elvis song. I won't stop asking about it.

Thanks Amy! And thanks to everyone who's contributed to this feature over the years. Tomorrow we have one more normal SOTD and then everything gets... well, I'll leave it for you to find it. That's what a man out of time would do.

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