After 40 years of being a new wave punk, it would be easy to think that Elvis Costello couldn’t surprise us anymore, but that’s exactly what he’s done with his latest single “Phonographic Memory”. The song, released last week, finds the pub rocker ditching his singing style for spoken word prose.
“Phonographic Memory” comes as a B-side to “We’re All Cowards Now”, which Costello released two weeks ago. Both songs are set to appear on his 31st album, Hey Clockface, available on October 30th.
In “Phonographic Memory”, Costello imagines a speech from Orson Welles pieced together from stock footage from the Library of Congress, set to a distant acoustic guitar. The storyline itself displays Costello’s worldview as he begins, “We have not come so much to a fork in the road, as a fork on the plate, scraping the last lick off the gravy train of history.” The song is dense with historical allegory, metaphors, and meaning enough to give nightmares of high school English and Dylan Thomas reading assignments.
While many of the minute points may fly above a listener’s head, the core of the story is of a society that has moved forward at the sake of forgetting its past. With lines like, “After the peace was negotiated and the internet switched off, knowledge returned to its medieval cloister, in this and that illuminated volume, the jealous possession of the pious and the superstitious, who might once again wield ignorance like a scythe,” Costello casts a dark criticism, the same brand he’s been pushing out since the late 1970s. Also, it’s worth noting that in this reality Taylor Swift may or may not be president, as the last line mentions a “President Swift” giving a “slight, shy smile of pearl and pillar-box red and began to sing a plain song of her acceptance.”
Listen to “Phonographic Memory” by Elvis Costello below. Pre-order Hey Clockface here.
Elvis Costello – “Phonographic Memory” (Official Audio)
[Video: Elvis Costello]