Elvis Costello • My Aim is True

Universal Music/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-329
Single 180-gram LP
1977/2010

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | June 24, 2010

he son of a British bandleader, Elvis Costello has hit almost every musical stop in his over-three-decade career, yet for so many of his fans his earliest albums define his gift. In the 1970s, he was working as a computer programmer by day and performing under the name D.P. Costello by night. After landing a contract with Stiff Records, he took Elvis Presley's first name, adding it to his mother's maiden name, and shortly after released My Aim is True.

It fits perfectly its musical time and place. Straddling punk and new wave, My Aim is True displays the controlled fury and cynicism of the former along with the tight, punchy songwriting of the latter. Costello's early songs were compact and intuitive, lacking the excesses that would mark some of his later work, an outgrowth of his innate restlessness. No song on My Aim is True goes over four minutes, and many show a deep understanding of musical traditions as diverse as reggae and '50s doo wop. "Blame it on Cain" and "Less Than Zero" are each three minutes of tuneful, snarling perfection, Costello's dense, inventive lyrics never resorting to mere cleverness.

My Aim is True has been remastered and re-released on CD three times, but even the best-sounding of these doesn't compare to this LP, which has a more realistic spectral balance, due to its meatier bottom end. The treble has lost its ringing grittiness, sounding nuanced and even delicate in spots. There is still some wooliness in the mids, but that's inherent to the recording. The vividness and immediacy of "Alison" and "Sneaky Feelings" push both tracks into sonic-demo territory.

Thus, no matter how much you spend on your digital gear, My Aim is True will never sound this good. Mobile Fidelity's GAIN 2 Ultra Analog system uses a Studer tape player with customized electronics and handcrafted cutting amps that drive the Ortofon cutting head of a Neumann VMS-70 lathe. Master tapes are played back at half speed to best capture all of the recorded detail. The pressing is exceptionally quiet, allowing the music to reveal itself fully.

This Year's Model is just out, and Armed Forces is in Mobile Fidelity's reissue queue. These are the two albums that followed My Aim is True, and they chart the ambitious course Costello would take in his next several releases. If My Aim is True is any indication -- and surely it is -- these two MoFi LPs will be the definitive way to hear this essential music.

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