Publisher Blue Rider Press touts Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink as on par with Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Keith Richards’ Life, widely considered (along with Bob Dylan’s Chronicles) as the best rock memoirs. The brainy Costello -- known for inventive albums (Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom), eclectic collaborations (Kid Rock to Ruben Blades) and deep-cut knowledge of music history -- invites such comparisons.
Unfaithful Music doesn’t live up to those expectations, though there are flashes of brilliance. Costello has an eye for capturing a person with one quick observation: Bruce Springsteen “laughed like steam escaping from a radiator”; lover Bebe Buell shows up on his doorstep “gift-wrapped [like] a mail-order bride” who “meant to do me harm”; David Bowie has a secret talent for party games. The parts about the making of his music are great, thoroughly dissecting his lyrics and influences (Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” was in his head when he wrote “Alison”). He writes movingly of his conflicted relationship with his father, a musician and philanderer; indeed, the dominant thread here is Costello’s attempts to come to terms with their relationship.