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I've listened to most of these 33.3 books - almost all are worth hearing - some (Dylan) are better than others (Pet Sounds) but this one is in a class of its own. This guy is to music criticism what Elvis Costello is to lyric-writing. The narrator is also brilliant - he sounds almost like the guy who narrates Infinite Jest. The combination of the two is like a shot of pure adrenaline to the brain.
In any case, this book is densely packed with deeply thought-out revelations about lyrics, music and the history of pop music. The "best positive" review nails it with "tour de force". The "best critical" review claims not to be able to get through after several tries. In my case, I can't stop listening to it. The first time you realize that you're only absorbing about 10% of the layers - just like an EC song, actually. Make sure to get the Ryko reissues with the outtakes and alternate takes because many of the choicest bits of analysis refer to them.
If the 33.3 people are reading this - more by Franklin Bruno, please.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Much like Elvis Costello himself, his songs, his body of work, even his actual career trajectory is meandering, this album is muddled with a pinch of unique genius that will generally confuse the average listener of music. In my opinion, his best album is “Armed Forces” (which was originally titled “Emotional Fascism”.) And, this is why I’m starting this review of this book here, because you need to know a bit about the history of Fascism in Europe as well a great many things to get into the subtext the author is trying to reveal. Ironically, he refuses to even try to define what he thinks is meant by “Emotional Fascism.” But both words and their implications about and not-about each other seem to be fluid throughout the album. So much so, that many references didn’t make sense until I read this.
Much like many fans, this is my favorite album Elvis Costello ever made. Many come close, but there is something lurking on this record that both haunts and rocks this listener. It will be handy for the reader to have the album at hand to listen for some of the musical critiques and comments. I often think it funny when people “complain” that “What’s so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” was tacked on to the end of an album that starts with a song called “Accidents will Happen” … this “accident” actually pulls off a wicked trick in making a cohesive piece of music out of what could have been random songs with thematic issues. To think this was Elvis Costello’s big stab at getting into the upper-tears of rock stardom and that songs are influenced with pop radio sensibilities (ABBA on AWH, for example.)
As for the overall message, it seems that the Columbus Incident was a distillation of a man from England, steeped in its culture but also steeped in the music from everywhere being brought home daily for his musician father to learn (see British musician’s union rules that mess.) The Columbus Incident seems to be born out of the frustration of the young, overly intelligent man, suddenly famous and imploding from the inside out. What he ended up saying was probably the nastiest thing he could think of, though it definitely did not make his point. Over all these years, Elvis still plays these songs even though he views the first 3 albums as his “pop star” period and it’s probably the guilt or “Emotional Fascism” that came from the destruction of that young, arrogant person into an established artist. Where ever he went after this album, it was always away from it.