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.He also hosted two seasons of a music/interview show called Spectacle: Elvis Costello with... which aired on the Sundance Channel in the US and Channel Four in the UK.Not to be confused with shoeless Joe.
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").
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 Attractions released Mad About the Wrong Boy, a "solo" album without Costello, in 1980. Costello later covered one of its songs, "Sad About Girls".
The Impostors is essentially The Attractions minus Bruce Thomas.
Canon Discontinuity - 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.
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. His marital difficulties also contributed to Goodbye Cruel World's bland '80s production. On the other hand, his problems also inspired much of the material on Imperial Bedroom, which many fans consider to be his masterpiece and many critics list as one of the greatest albums of all time.
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.
Lyrical Cold Open - Costello's first three albums each possess one, the tracks in question being "Welcome to the Working Week", "No Action", and "Accidents Will Happen". Other examples include "Mystery Dance", "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 horror.
"Let Him Dangle" and "Kinder Murder" might also count.
Must Make Amends - Fans and critics have speculated that this was the motivation behind the classic R&B-inspired production of Get Happy!! after Costello's "N-word" incident, but Word Of God says no.
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. Costello joked that their collaboration reversed the dynamics one would expect, with Paul being the one who tried to write entire songs in one chord and similar weirdness, and Elvis being the one who was coming up with more melodic material.
Nick Lowe produced many of his most acclaimed releases.
Retraux: The cover for Get Happy!!, as well as its production style, was influenced by R&B from The Sixties.
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".