Listen now on:
KEVIN DAVIS: Songs like “It’s Time” are the greatest reward of this type of weekly writing exercise: Here is a song occupying the penultimate slot on the second Elvis Costello record I ever purchased, yet for some reason it’s a song that often escapes my memory until something (i.e. a suggestion from my co-author) prompts to me to seek it out again – a circumstance which no doubt speaks less to the song itself and more to how easy it is for even great songs to get lost in a discography as deep and comprehensive as Costello’s. This isn’t a bad thing; in a way, it affords the catalog a “gift that keeps on giving” quality, ensuring that the artist’s body of work always remains new as it continuously offers fresh reasons to get excited about it. “It’s Time” has been that song for me this week.
“It’s Time” is inadvertently something of a monument to the ’90s
I try not to miss the ‘90’s too much, but it’s hard for a music geek not to look back fondly on a time when the business was in such a robust state that a major label could afford to sink advertising coin into releasing promotional singles for literally half the tracks on a record of eclectic musical ephemera from an artist who’d long stopped gunning for number ones. Endearingly for me, “It’s Time” is inadvertently something of a monument to this era in the not too distant past – when rock artists’ rudimentary experiments with drum loops felt like the sound of forever, when one-hit wonders like White Town and Primitive Radio Gods were the padding that grunge holdouts were outwardly outraged but secretly ecstatic to sit through in between airings of Smashing Pumpkins videos. In fact, the brief space carved out at the beginning of the song — when the totality of the soundscape is the 8-bit keyboard, the somewhat distant accent of EC’s sandy, gritty guitar line, and a stock drum loop not unlike the one used in Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” – is so satisfying, so easy to sink into that I wish it lingered there a little bit longer, even if after sixty seconds the song is right to change course. Costello’s guitar is the full arrangement’s secret weapon; the riff is phlanged out just enough, and mixed just far enough out on the periphery of the spectrum, to retain just the right amount of weirdness. Moreover, I’m not sure any other Costello song prior to his partnership with ?uestlove employs a beat similar to this – as one of a small number EC compositions to turn a fleeting glance toward hip-hop rhythms, it seems one of the few tracks from the man’s first three decades to presage Wise Up Ghost.
Like the relationship it describes, “It’s Time” is something of a one-time thing in Elvis’s discography – we never again see another song that employs these elements in quite this way (several songs on When I Was Cruel look this direction, but their overall aesthetic is different), and perhaps never again hear Elvis so in step with a series of subtle production trends that just twenty years ago seemed like the wave of the future and now seem endearingly like the distant past. Songs like this are the souvenirs of a long career.
JORGE FARAH: I loved “It’s Time” on my very first listen, and its placement as the second-to-last track on All This Useless Beauty actually heightened my expectations of it. Years of acclimating to the narrative structure of novels, films and television — the great big climax where all the story strands converge and the main conflicts are resolved is typically followed by some sort of quieter epilogue that underlines the overarching themes and wraps the story up with a nice bow — has transferred over to my music appreciation. Because of this, I often look to the penultimate album track to be grand and dramatic. “It’s Time,” with its larger-than-life chorus, biting declarations of abject bitterness, and everything-and-the-kitchen-sink studio trickery, is exactly that.
“It’s Time” hasn’t even been played live since the year it was released. But to me, it’s one of his biggest hits
I share KD’s appreciation for the brittle AM-radio vibes of the opening 45 seconds, and I also can imagine it inhabiting that sonic space a little longer. But I am also a huge fan of everything that comes after it, particularly that drum sound. Yes, that unmistakably 90s drum sound: booming bass, tightly-wound snare— the rhythm Pete Thomas is playing here actually brings a bunch of 90s stuff to mind, namely “Keep On Movin’” by Soul II Soul, Duran Duran’s “Come Undone,” and that multi-part Enigma song with the Gregorian chants. I love what it’s doing here, and how it pushes the song forward. Also of note in the percussion track is that sound that punctuates each line in the chorus—which sounds like it could be castanets, but also sounds like a set of keys falling into a bed of coins lining someone’s side picket. The big booming guitars, the flanged-out bridge, the unrestrained vocal performance, they all contribute to making this song sound so massive and triumphant. And this huge, lumbering thing is six minutes long.
I found myself dumbstruck by the fact that, though it was released as the album’s lead single, the song didn’t have an accompanying music video (it was the 90s! Music videos were how lead singles got heard by the MTV crowd, the only crowd that mattered!); received little attention from the public (lack of music video notwithstanding, this song is a hit! The catchy melodies! The 90s radio pop sheen! The drum loops! The sardonic and relatable lyrics about the intersection of lust and disdain and the utter futility of love itself!); and has received similarly little attention from Elvis himself (no sign of this song – again, a lead single—on any of his several career-spanning retrospectives). The Elvis Costello Wiki reliably informs me that this song hasn’t even been played live since the year of the album’s release. But to me, “It’s Time” is one of his all-time biggest hits. Some of my favorite moments in EC’s discography have happened when he’s thrown himself unabashedly into the moment, setting aside his artistic self-consciousness to just surrender completely to the song, which with help of The Attractions and Geoff Emerick is precisely what he does with “It’s Time.”
New Costellophiles, new Costello songs, same ongoing playlist of the Elvis Costello songs that we feel make the case for our obsession with him.