Jeff Moody
“National Ransom”

Rich music for bankrupt times

By - Nov 6th, 2010 04:00 am
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Tony Millionaire’s beautifully illustrated cover art sets the tone of National Ransom: A wolf in robber-baron clothing is running down a road with a bag full of flaming cash, done in the style of a 19th century editorial cartoon. The chorus of the rollicking title track articulates the imagery :

They’re running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we’re working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

Working class Americans, after pulling banks back from the brink of insolvency, are losing their savings, their jobs, and in the cruelest twist, their homes to the very financial institutions they were forced to bail out with their own tax dollars. Elected legislators, many of whom are former employees and are active shareholders in those institutions, made sure of it. National Ransom indeed.

Elvis Costello has seen this before on a much less elaborate scale in Margaret Thatcher’s England in the 1980’s, back when Sarah Palin was still singeing her forehead with curling irons, prepping for Wasilla prance pageants. Thatcher broke the back of organized labor, and the manufacturing base of the industrial north of England was decimated under her rule. Costello famously made his contempt for Thatcherism known in “Tramp The Dirt Down,” where he reveled in the prospect of one day dancing on her grave.

None of this is to say that National Ransom is an overtly political record… Costello doesn’t make ‘em. In musical backdrops that range from the style of Cole Porter (the joyful “A Voice In The Dark”) Nashville honky-tonk (“My Lovely Jezebel”) and a straight up bar rocker (“The Spell That You Cast”) this elpee is topical and timely.

Yes, one may guess he’s not in favor of trickle-down economics when he’s singing a line like “Kings reign beneath umbrellas/ hide pennies down in cellars/and money pours down and yet not everyone gets soaking wet,” but Costello is a master of literary songwriting that rises above being merely literal, a skill that works for him like a lyrical preservative. National Ransom because of this, has no expiration date.

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