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Welcome back to The Elvis Costello Song Of The Week®, our ongoing attempt to drive you ever-deeper into the catalog of the musician who most embodies the Trunkworthy mission.
The week’s pick: “Crimes of Paris,” from Blood & Chocolate (1986)
“Crimes of Paris “ is every bit as catchy as “Oliver’s Army,” just as confrontational as “Radio Radio,” and as rock ’n’ roll aggressive as “Pump It Up.” And then there’s that title that works—like many other E.C. songs—as a double-edged metaphor (referencing both the city of love/lights and the tragic figure of Greek mythology). So why wasn’t this the single from Blood & Chocolate? Where’s this track on the best-ofs and greatest hits? Blood & Chocolate is an album everybody talks about—at the time considered a return to classic form for E.C. and the Attractions. But other than “I Want You,” which has been the centerpiece of many live shows, only hardcore fans can name another track from the record.
I don’t exactly know what one of my favorite lines, “I heard that you fell for the hell or to Hammersmith Blues,” means, and have only a vague idea of what this song is about (sparing you briefly from my occasional rock critic/poetry-101-from-hell musings) but I just love the way the lyrics sound and feel. And they remind me of the best of Dylan—not in a derivative way, but in the same way some Dylan songs are so committed they force you to find your own meaning and forge a personal connection that goes beyond any literal interpretation.
I’ve wanted to feature “Crimes” ever since the recently released Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes came out. That record features Costello, alongside Marcus Mumford (minus the Sons), Jim James, and others, bringing their own music, attitude, and other gifts to unearthed Bob Dylan lyrics and offering up something new, relevant, and urgent for 2014. It all makes me hope that Costello has more than a handful of lyrics in his basement, and that in some science fiction universe, Bob will return the favor.
David Gorman: I had the same experience with these lyrics. I had a hard time stitching together a story, but there are so many individual lines and metaphors that are just so fantastic: “You’re tough and transparent as armored glass” or “he’s always stiff as hair lacquer” were the highest literature to me when I first heard them as a high-school kid studying creative writing. I also loved how there’s this whole song set up around these vague “Crimes of Paris,” and then he drops the line where a woman hits a guy with an Eiffel Tower paperweight—a literal crime of Paris. And all of this just bounces along in a song that is sparkly and catchy but weirdly ominous and spooky at the same time.
It couldn’t be further from prog-rock, but it does feel like it has these little movements in it, like a mini “Band on the Run.” The backup vocals are where I hear the most drastic mood-shifts—the smooth oohs and aahs that pretty up the chorus, the eerie female vocal over the song’s title, and then whatever the hell is going on in the song’s pummeling bridge, where it goes from percussive chant to horror-show screams. It all combines for a twisted trip through relationships none of us would like to be in but most of us probably have.
Another Elvis Costello Song Of The Week, another song added to our ongoing Elvis Costello Song Of The Week playlist. Makes all the sense in the world: