Song of the Day #256: ‘The Only Flame in Town’ – Elvis Costello

goodbyecruelwordIn the liner notes of a reissued CD of Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello starts off with this encouraging sentiment: “Congratulations! You just bought the worst album of my career.”

It’s tough to argue with him.

I called Punch the Clock a step back, and compared to Imperial Bedroom it is certainly that. But Punch the Clock is a masterpiece compared to Goodbye Cruel World. This album suffers from the cheesy production that crept into Punch the Clock but also falls short in terms of the songwriting.

Now this is where it’s customary to say “But even the worst Elvis Costello album is better than most of what’s out there” but that’s simply not the case. The album certainly isn’t toxic but it is decidedly boring. I’ve heard better versions of several of the songs but overall it’s best left ignored.

So here’s the best track on the album, the mostly delightful ‘The Only Flame in Town,’ sung alongside 80s giant Daryl Hall. The video is pretty great, and even a song like this contains some great lyrics, with Elvis playing up the fire metaphor for all its worth.

I know a girl got my mind in a mess
I never heard her say goodnight and God bless
She’s not the only flame in townAnd when we’re alone we never quarrel
I’m miles away now here’s the moral
She’s not the only flame in town

She’s not the only flame in town
She’s got to stop thinking that I’m
carrying this torch around

He struck a match and it lit up her face
We should have struck a match girl
To burn down the whole place
Now you’re not the only flame in town

But you blew hot and cold
Turned my heart to a cinder
And with each passing day
You’d be less tender and more tinder
Now you’re not the only flame in town

She’s not the only flame in town
She’s got to stop thinking that I’m
carrying this torch around

Thought I saw your face in the fire
But it’s so hard to remember
Even an inferno can cool down to an ember
Now you’re not the only flame
You’re not the only flame
You’re not the only flame in town

 

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #256: ‘The Only Flame in Town’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Yes, I agree that it is hard to defend this album. It is certainly his weakest. This was clearly a phase in his career where he was searching for some type of pop commercial success, and thank god he stopped trying to achieve that!

    Now, having said that, I have always liked The Only Flame in Town, and I also like I Want To Be Loved, though he did not write the latter song. The rest of the album? No thanks (and, yes, it does pain me to say that!)

  2. Amy says:

    Why would he release it? Was this the product of some terrible relationship with his record company? Why would Elvis frakkin Costello feel the need to put out an album he would declare his worst ever? I don’t get it.

  3. Clay says:

    I imagine he didn’t think it was his worst album at the time of release. And maybe he was contractually obligated to put something out?

  4. Dana says:

    I really think there was a time when Elvis either wanted commercial success or his record company wanted him to be more commercial.

    The funny thing is that THIS song was probably my first introduction to Elvis, as it received constant rotation on MTV back in the day. If you want to be featured on MTV and try to score some kind of a hit, it’s hard to argue that a duet with Daryl Hall in the early 80’s would be your best shot.

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