Friday, 28 June 2013

Introduction to TV Girl

TV Girl Introduction Garage Indie JJ Up and Coming Vintage Pop Review Songs Lyrics

I really love hearing stories about bands whose members had day jobs and did music on the side – until their music became their day job.  This is what up and coming band, TV Girl, did and I don’t see them reverting back to their day jobs any time soon.  The band is comprised of vocalist Brad Petering and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalists Trung Ngo and Joel Williams.  While growing up together they had participated in small music projects, but their major music attempt is TV Girl.  They have previously released mix-tapes and their first official album is called Lonely Woman.

Their music feels like easy listening with a garage band touch – and a little pop thrown in.  However, they add a unique, urban touch by sampling the likes of Todd Rundgren, Bob Dylan and Tracy Chapman.  In this sense, their style is vaguely reminiscent of JJ, who take modern rap songs and create songs like this or this.  TV Girl do something similar, albeit with a garage band touch, while sharing the chill vibes that both bands produce.  Honestly, their sampling it good but doesn’t produce anything special, the way JJ does.  That being said, their original songs are really great and if they keep producing these then I’d be surprised if they remain as unknown as they seem to be!

If you’re just getting acquainted with TV Girl, I recommend starting with their mix-tape from 2012, The Wild, The Innocent, the TV.   My favorites from this include “Loud and Clear”, which is a catchy summer tune featuring some of my favorite TV Girl lyrics, “Look at us now, aren’t we all so fabulously clever? - Don’t we all just have such witty things to say - Have you noticed how it all just blends together - And melts away?”.  It also features “Sweaters” which is short and sweet and “I Wonder Who She’s Kissing Now” is a perfectly uplifting vintage pop song. 

I’ve said this before, but I have a tendency to be hugely biased towards songs that mention my name.  Regardless of this mention, “Sarah (Meet Me in The Sauna)” is a great song and really demonstrates the merging of their vintage pop influence with their garage band style.

Their newest release was on June 18th, entitled Lonely Woman.  Unsurprisingly, each song is about girls and features the increasingly recognizable, intentionally lazy sounding vocals of their previous work.  I really like the first of five songs on the album, “She Smokes in Bed”.  The light-hearted tone of the song is quite facetious as the lyrics depict the slow demise of an insecure woman.  The next song, “Laura” reminds me of Matt & Kim with its singsong melody.  “My Girlfriend” has been on repeat while I’ve been writing this.  It tackles the depression of the narrator’s girlfriend with that facetious humor that TV Girl likes to use “My girlfriend – always leaves a mess – she says she’s going to clean – but she always forgets”.  “Easier to Cry” continues with their dark tone and lonely themes and explains how crying is a favorable alternative to suicide, purely based on its lack of difficulty!  The final story discusses the very replaceable “Melanie” and portrays her anonymity by comparing her to a myriad of women with ordinary names (Stephanie, Jane, Amy, Emily, etc.).

What’s really standout about TV Girl is, to me, the mixture of complex lyrics with happy-go-lucky melodies.  This is most apparent on Lonely Woman, which obviously implies that the band will be heading in this direction in the future.  I would recommend listening to the songs here, as you have the option to open the lyrics while listening.  I say this particularly with TV Girl because the deceiving melodies make it easy to overlook the serious content of the lyrics.  Also, the lyrics are very clever and well written, which makes this band so special compared to the endless new indie bands out there today!  Seriously, this band is awesome - check them out!

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Review: Ludovico Einaudi, In a Time Lapse

Ludovico Einaudi has always been an artist that I could work to.  What I mean is, I struggle to find music that I can study to that doesn’t easily distract me and prevent me from being productive.  If I were to study to Buddy Holly, I would be unable to write more than a few sentences before jumping up and singing every word in a very embarrassing jam session… alone.  In contrast, Einaudi’s compositions form a perfect balance between relaxing and captivating.  Some are more subtle, such as “Divenire”, which is dreamy and some are more captivating, such as his beautiful performance of “Nuvole Bianche” with Alessia Tondo.  With this album, he has successfully continued to captivate his audience and create a stunning selection of new songs.

While attention spans are rapidly decreasing with each generation, it’s impressive when a composer is able to captivate as broad an audience as Einaudi has been able to do.  While I do recognize that he would be sorted into a “Top 40” category within classical music, his compositions still vastly differ from the music that a lot of his audience may typically listen to.  The sole criticism that I can propose for this album is that I feel he may be veering dangerously close to a “soundtrack”.  To be fair, I guess you can almost say that about any song and I would certainly not group him with the likes of Hans Zimmerman, for example.  I think this feeling emanates from the addition of a larger orchestra and a heavier inclusion of the violin.  I’m not sure I could pinpoint exactly why this makes me feel this way, but it feels as though some of the songs have been written for something, i.e. specifically for an emotional climax in a film.

If you’re just going to listen to one song off of this album, it has to be “Run”.  After listening to this album a few times through, this was the song that I stopped to put on repeat each time.  It is a resplendent symphony of piano and violin, which also features the I Virtuosi Italiani ensemble.  The first thing that I noticed about this album was how different it is to his previous work.  While “Run” is classic Einaudi, “Life” allows the glockenspiel and violin to take the lead and “Newton’s Cradle” includes chilling percussion and synthesizers.  These are just two examples from the album, but being an avid Einaudi fan for the past few years I can see a coming-of-age of sorts that I think separates this album from a lot of his previous work.  However, I was pleased that he chose to close the album with “Burning”, which sounds like a musical definition of why Einaudi has achieved such fame.  After the inclusion of so many other exhilarating instruments throughout the album, “Burning” is a consummate piece to finish In a Time Lapse with.

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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review: Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Jason Isbell New Album Review Southeastern Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit sober lyrics music songs

There are a lot of artists whose entire careers are based on their substance abuse.  Sometimes, this is fuelled by media attention after abhorrent behavior and sometimes the fuel emanates from the pain, addition and abuse the artist has experienced to create beautiful, dark-spirited albums.  Or, they get sober and produce an album that tops anything they’d done before.  With that, Jason Isbell presents Southeastern.  What is especially notable about this new album is that it doesn’t sound like a preachy self-help book; it’s a non-preachy, non-self-help inspired reflection of his abusive behavior and his journey to overcome it.

This sometimes is done in a comic fashion, in “Super 8”, which reiterates that he “Don’t want to die in a Super 8 Motel” or in a demonstration of raw emotion like with “Yvette”.  He depicts loneliness in “Traveling Alone”, which leads to misery and desperation.  “Cover Me Up” tells a haunting story of growth, realization and repentance and has some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album (a very welcome change after listening to The Neighbourhood’s, I Love You. last week!).  My favorite songs off of this release have to be “Stockholm” and “Elephant”.  I think these two really demonstrate Isbell’s ability to create stunning music free of fancy special effects or synthesizers.  Rather, these songs use pure emotion, experience and musical talent to create something influential and beautiful.   This is particularly evident in “Elephant”, which is used as a partially arbitrary replacement for the word “cancer”, and tells the dramatic story of attempting to live a normal life under the elephant-sized shadow of the disease.

Isbell uses a significant portion of this album to point out the weaknesses of humankind and explain the drastic changes and effects this can have on a person’s life.  Even more than this, Isbell really demonstrates his versatility on this album.  He portrays an open-mind, whereby he’s able to examine an issue or event from multiple different points-of-view.  Through this he produces a varied album that uses multiple styles of music and presents many different influences, both musically and lyrically.  He creates relatable characters that have the listener immediately hooked on each unique situation that he describes.  Even though he creates such a vast selection of characters, they are all tied together by the theme of regret.

This really is a fantastic album that truly deserves the admiration and recognition that it has been receiving this week.  It’s based around the acoustic guitar and emotionally grabbing lyrics.  Similarly, anyone who was a fan of City and Colour’s Bring Me Your Love from 2008 will likely be a fan of Southeastern, as well!

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Review: The Neighbourhood, I Love You.

The Neighbourhood I Love You Album Review Up and Coming New Artist Songs Music Lyrics
The Neighbourhood’s debut album has been blowing up in the young music scene since it’s release in late April (making this review a pretty belated!).  I first heard “Sweater Weather” and was excited to hear the rest of the album.  Before I could, I saw a lot of negative reviews, which surprised me, as even though I’d only heard one song, I liked what I heard.  What I think is really important to note with this band, and why the critic’s ratings have been quite low, is because they’re clearly a teenage band.  Yes, the lyrics are shallow and it doesn’t match up to the classics and even some of the better bands of the moment like Mumford & Sons or The Black Keys.  Yes, they’re trying a little too hard to be edgy, when in reality there’s nothing hugely original about a lot of the songs on this album.  However, they have produced some good songs that I feel are being overlooked.  Before I heard Phoenix’s new album, Bankrupt!, most of the critical reviews that I had read were praising it, but when I heard it I was monumentally disappointed! Clearly, it’s a matter of personal taste.

The album begins with a slightly gothic, synthesizer-based intro, entitled “How”.  After this, “Afraid” demonstrates why their lyrics have been so heavily criticized;  “You’re too mean, I don’t like you, fuck you anyway”.  Okay, not the most creative or intellectual way to get your point across!  Luckily, the album improves after this.  “Female Robbery”, “Sweater Weather”, “Flawless” and “W.D.Y.W.F.M.?” are the highlights off the album and I would recommend downloading these four rather than the entire album.

I have a French friend in Paris who didn’t start learning English until she was 13.  She said there were a lot of English songs that she really liked before she learned English and didn’t hear them again until after she spoke it fluently.  She then explained how she experienced a bizarre form of déjà vu because when she heard them years later she was then able to understand the lyrics.  For me, I think I would like this album a lot more if I didn’t speak English!   For example, I would have had a very different reaction to the song “Float” if I wasn’t distracted by "They show you how to swim / Then they throw you in the deep end"!  Really?  This was the cleverest metaphor for life that they could come up with?

However, this is their debut album and they’ve gone from nothing to a huge success in a very short time.  They’ve still got room to grow and their success from here seems to be limitless in terms of the fan base that they have already accumulated as well as the direction their music can go in.  I think that after this album they will veer away from the indie/hip-hop genre that they’ve delved in towards the mainstream.  True, the Beastie Boys found a happy medium with the genre, but since them no bands come to mind that have been equally successful with it.  Not that The Neighbourhood sounds like the Beastie Boys, but there’s a slight indie/hip-hop influence.  It’s just enough to be noticeable, but I think their work after this will be much more pop-inclined.

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Sunday, 16 June 2013

"Feel Good" Playlist

If I’m being honest, all of my “feel good” songs are by Elvis Costello.  This man can sing one syllable and my happiness is through the roof.  However, for the sake of diversity, I’ve put together a selection of songs that always lift my mood regardless of my location, situation or any prior feelings.  It’s a combination of some of my favorite songs and some that I can really only describe as feel good.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the happiest songs but rather songs that never fail to put you in a good mood.  One time, I was playing the song “This is the Day” by The The to a friend and explaining how this song always puts me in a good mood.  He replied: “Sarah, I’m pretty sure this song about suicide”.  Clearly, my radar is a little bit off.  However, I think these songs are perfect because they have the ability to put you in a good mood in a discrete way, meaning that the lyrics aren’t always blatantly happy.  I even managed to narrow it down to just one Elvis Costello song!  Okay, he sings in Jenny Lewis’s “Carpetbaggers” too, but that’s not really cheating… is it?!

I began this playlist with Joe Jackson’s “Pretty Girls”.   By the end of your first listen of this testosterone-fuelled song, you’ll be singing the chorus.  Jackson (not to be confused with Micheal Jackson’s father!) is one of my favorite performers to watch.  He’s incredibly gangly and awkward and makes these herky-jerky movements on stage that are a little ridiculous to watch (check out his 1980 performance of “Kinda Kute” on YouTube for all the proof of this!).  The next song is an odd choice as the song is literally repeating the words “why don’t you go away?”  Yet, the following line, “Why don’t you come back, baby” makes it a lyrically brilliant give-and-take and I like the uncertainness of it.  I think it’s really relatable, especially for those who have as much difficultly making up their mind as I do.

I decided to choose The Wallflowers’ most famous song.  It’s a really great song and I’m going to write an introduction to them, so I thought I’d start with this as a sort of pre-introduction.  It really baffles me how Jakob Dylan isn’t more famous than he is!  The next song, “Safe in L.A.” by Gold Motel is pretty different, but such a feel good song.  It’s an easy listen and I think it’s really uplifting as the lyrics can be applicable to anyone and any situation.  “O Valencia!” by The Decemberists is another song like “Safe in L.A.”  with an easy upbeat melody and simple but enjoyable lyrics.

With this blog, I’ve tried to present a pretty varied selection of artists and songs.  I like the new stuff, but I really like the old stuff, like this next song, too.  “Runaway” is the song that Del Shannon is known for; it was a Number 1 hit in 1961.  After Shannon’s suicide, the Traveling Willburys released a cover of “Runaway” which is really worth listening to, especially if you like the original.  The next song I’ve included is another famous one.  The Hollies have endless great songs but “Bus Stop” is one of their happiest.  It’s a simple love song (the first stanza clearly doesn’t waste any words!) and I challenge anyone to not have his or her mood lifted after one listen of this song.

“It’s Too Bad” is one of my favorite Jam songs.  With a playlist like this, it’s difficult not to just list my favorite songs, but I think this song is pretty universally loved.  It’s a little difficult to write about some of these songs, as I think with bands like The Hollies or The Jam, anything there is to say about them has already been said.

Jenny Lewis is one of those package deal artists.  Anyone who likes her, almost with complete certainty, will also be a fan of She & Him, M. Ward and The Wallflowers.  Historically, the term “Carpetbaggers” was used in America as an equivalent to the word “Yankee”; i.e. what southerners would call northerners.  I’m not entirely sure what this song is about, but it seems to be describing someone who feels out of place.  I really enjoyed this song at first and when I got to Costello’s addition to the song, it perfected it for me.  It has a slight country tone to it, so perhaps that relates to the southern point-of-view of the title.  The next song, “People Got a Lotta Nerve” has a similar beat to “Carpetbaggers”.  My dad is a concert promoter, and he introduced me to Neko Case when he was promoting a tour with her in 2009.  As he was playing some of their music he was explaining how she was one of the kindest artists he has ever worked with.  If you watch the music video for this song, her laid-back, sweet personality shines.  Also, what I really like about it is that she chose her back-up singers based on talent.  They both have great voices, but aren’t 6ft, 95 pounds and wearing 6-inch stilettos.   They’re clearly just normal people with talent, just like Neko Case, which is surprisingly rare to find in the music industry!

Speaking of “normal” people in the music industry, Ray LaMontagne fits this to a T.   I think that “You Are The Best Thing” is the perfect first dance wedding song, and it is just so peaceful to listen to.  The combination of the orchestra and the soft background singers perfects it.  Even though the songs are very different, I think that this song flows nicely into the next one: “Hustle” by Tunng.  This is another relaxed, easy-going song that has the perfect melody to lift your mood.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve spent my summer afternoons listening to this song for 3 years now, but to me this song just screams summer.  It has a happy-go-lucky melody and while the lyrics seem to depict a complicated and difficult relationship, the up-beat aspect makes it perfect for beach dwellers and relaxing days.

“Over Under Sideways Down” is a really unique song and I think it flows nicely into the next song, “Uncertain Smile”.   While The The is, let’s face it, the worst name I’ve ever heard for a band, singer/songwriter Matt Johnson is a creative genius and this song is no exception.  I chose “Uncertain Smile” primarily due to Jools Holland’s amazing keyboard solo, but the lyrics are also some of the greatest I’ve ever heard to describe an unrequited, obsessional love for someone.

It’s pretty self-explanatory why I’ve included “Sunny Afternoon” on this playlist.  The last song,  “Then He Kissed Me” will also be self-explanatory for anyone who has either grown up with it or has seen the beginning of Adventures in Babysitting!  As a girl, I can confidently state that there are no girls who do not have the exact same reaction any time this song is played.  I chose to conclude the playlist with this song as I think it's a definitive “feel good” song in absolutely every way!

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: Surfer Blood, Pythons

The release date for this album could not have been better.   Surfer Blood is a quintessentially summer band & Pythons fits this perfectly.  The album is chock-full of catchy, up-beat songs and seems a bit like a continuation of Astro Coast, rather than a progression from it.  I generally don’t focus much on the flow of the album, unless it seems off, but I think they’ve managed it very well here.  When working with nearly all up-beat songs like this, it could easily just sound like a band of cheerleaders.  However, they provide two breaks with “I Was Wrong” and “Needles and Pins”, which help to meld one song into the next and were placed at just the right moment in the album.  The sound is good, the flow is good… but there’s just something about Surfer Blood that will always be average!

That being said, I don’t even know what it is that makes them so average.  I couldn’t tell you that they just need to change this or tweek that.  They’re just one of those bands that will never be described as great because they can’t compare to some of the other music that’s out there today.  Sometimes, when I find a new band or a new album that I really like I tend to act a little hyperbolic.  I’ll listen to them, and only them, for a week or two and subsequently announce that they are the greatest band ever.  But then I revisit some of the classics that I like, such as Radiohead or the Clash or some of my favorite modern bands like She & Him or Local Natives that I had momentarily ignored.  When I return to this band that I had just praised, I suddenly say that they’re just okay!  These comparisons aren’t entirely fair, as the bands I’ve just mentioned are completely different to Surfer Blood, I can’t help but do it.  I guess it’s easy to get caught up in momentum with something new like that, be it an album or a tv show or some must-have shoes.  Regardless, this is the reaction that I’ve seen a lot of people have to Surfer Blood and this is why I say that they’ll always be just okay.  They will never be that classic band that you consistently revisit.

Yet, for the summer season that we’re technically in (I say technically as we’re still wearing winter coats in London!) this album is going to be a nice addition.  The album’s opening song, “Demon Dance”, as well as “Weird Shapes” both sound like punchy progressions from the previous album, Astro Coast.  These, along with “Prom Song”, are the standouts from this album for me. They’re all easy listens and don’t feel overdone.  Even though I like these songs, it bothers me that “Weird Shapes” and “Demon Dance” were the promotional singles that were released prior to the album.  It’s like when the only good parts of a movie are in the trailer, causing you to feel robbed when you pay £8.50 to see 3 funny minutes, surrounded by 87 minutes of crap.  Similarly, these are clearly the best songs on the album, making me feel a little jipped that the rest doesn’t match up.

This album also showcases a new component to Surfer Blood’s sound: emo screaming.  Okay, that’s an overstatement – it’s sort of a pop version of emo screaming.  While I do like the unpredictability of this, I wouldn’t say that it adds anything to the songs.  Maybe this is because it clearly doesn’t match the tone of the band, but I think it’s mostly because it’s used so sparingly throughout the record that it does nothing but throw you off.

Overall, I feel a little biased while reviewing this album (as I’m sure any other reviewers will also feel).  Last year, frontman John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic battery.  While all charges were dropped, this does not make me want to support the band and I was kind of hoping that this album would suck.

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This is Better Than Sex

Elvis Costello Mumford & Sons ONE Remix Collaboration New Release

Okay, that may be a hyperbole… but it’s hard to convey my excitement over this collaboration!  Elvis Costello is a legend and Mumford & Sons are one of the best current bands.  Now, they’ve worked together to cover two songs that I love.  It’s a good day.

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Friday, 7 June 2013

Neko Case Teaser for a (possible) New Album

I’m not entirely sure what this 90 second release is meant to tell us – but I’m assuming a new Neko Case album will be released soon!  Cases’s last album, Middle Cyclone, was released in 2009 and any fans of hers have been waiting for what seems like decades for another release.  I’m not sure if the lyrics, “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.” are going to be part of a single or are a new album title – either way I’m looking forward to any new work of hers.  She’s been added to a lot of fall festival lineups, so all signs point to a new album!

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Introduction to State Radio

State Radio Introduction Songs Lyrics Us Against the Crown Year of the Crow Let It Go Rabbit Inn Rebellion Album Review Chad Stokes
It feels like I’ve followed and adored State Radio since their formation in 2002.  This is likely due to lead singer Chad Stokes’s previous position in Dispatch, but State Radio didn’t come onto my radar until the release of their first album, Us Against the Crown, in 2005.  They’re a band that I feel quite close to as they’re from Sherborn, MA, which is nearby where I grew up, and they have a tendency to make Red Sox references in their songs (“I'll hold that hanger up As long as the sox put up a fight”)!  The band is now Boston-based, and released their fourth album last year.
Their first album, Us Against the Crown, was more reggae inclined than their later work.  Yet, rather than boasting messages of peace and love, it focuses on anti-war protests.  It’s motivating, but not preachy.  It was a great debut album and the response it got (particularly in Boston!) really reflected this.  Their next album, Year of the Crow, established them as a leftist-liberal band.  I like the effort of this album, but I think that they attempted to target too many imperialist victims throughout the album, leaving it directionless.  However, it’s still a fantastic album and the combination of these two made State Radio a fierce addition to the music scene in the early 2000s.

Two years later, the release of Let It Go was massive.  It included 3 discs, two of which were recordings of live performances.  At this point they had the reggae influences from their first album and the rock influences from their second album and they had to decide which direction to go.     It seems that, rather than doing this they tried to create a balance between the two – but it just resulted in inconsistency.  That’s not to say that there weren’t great songs on this album, it’s just that it feels a little incomplete.  The strongest songs on the album are rock-based, so I think if they had focused the rest of the album on that it would have been more impressive.  “Knights of Bostonia”, which emanates from this album, is one of my favorite State Radio songs and also a song that really describes them as a band.

While their next album in 2012 still had the inconsistent aspect, there were enough standout songs that this was overlooked.   This album was purely based on their social activism and had some really emotional songs.  “Freckled Mary” is about the rising drug issues facing Boston; “State of Georgia” was part of an Amnesty International campaign pleading mercy for Troy Davis, who had been on death row for 22 years; “Adelaide” depicts a story about lead singer Chad Urmston’s brother who moved away from Worcester, MA to LA with a girl he met on an Indian Reservation there; “Roadway Broken” served as a charity track after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and describes a woman searching for food for her children; "Take Cover" describes the bizarre feeling of peace we had in America, while fighting two wars.  This is what I really love about State Radio: Each song feels like a story. Stokes acts as a storyteller and each word gets you closer to an understanding.  If the challenge of discovering this doesn't appeal to you, Stokes released a commentary to give listeners a clearer understanding of his writing process and song meanings.

Yes, there are endless bands that fight for political and social change.  It’s to the point where it’s almost mainstream to do so!  But State Radio is special.  They began a social activist group, Calling All Crows, and have been working to send stoves to Sudan for many years.  There are a lot of bands that preach for change and get praised for this.  Yet, most of the bands singing about this change aren’t doing anything! Saying that there should be no war, but sitting on the couch waiting for someone else to carry out this change doesn’t make you a hero.  While it’s not as though what State Radio is doing is going to change the world, it’s refreshing to see a band using their influence in a purely positive manor.

Regardless of your political or social views (mine certainly don't always match up with Stokes!), State Radio is such a great band that they're still worth listening to.  Check out 10 really, really great State Radio songs:

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Monday, 3 June 2013

Elvis Costello & Dave Edmunds // "Girls Talk"

It’s really rare that I like covers better than originals.  I think this happens more often than I’d like to admit, but I just have this innate notion to always favor the original version of a song.  It probably comes from growing up in Boston and rooting for the Red Sox (the underdogs)!  Anyways, as hesitant as I am to admit it, Dave Edmunds’s cover of Elvis Costello’s Girls Talk takes the song to another level.

My favorite thing about this song is the sarcasm in the lyrics.  When Costello sings the song, it’s a little anxiety-ridden.   However, when Edmunds covers it he adds that necessary sarcastic tone to go along with the lyrics and (as the charts demonstrated) and turn it into a hit song.   He adds a bounce and up-beat aspect that the song needs. 

To me, this seems like one of those songs that would be written in a moment of thought.  As if Costello was sitting in a café or on a train and looking around at girls gossiping and, as we tend to do, assuming that they were talking about him.  Yet, it is vague who the lyrics of directed at and who the victim is.  Of course, it just wouldn’t be an Elvis Costello song without a few vicious remarks (You may not be an old-fashioned girl / But you're gonna get dated").  Note the pronunciation of dated!

This is one of those songs that I imagine would be universally liked.  Check out both versions, below:

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