CRITICAL MASS: the “Spanish model” recontextualizes Costello’s version


It would be easy to view “Spanish Model”, Elvis Costello’s recently released Spanish version of 1978 and the Attractions album “This Year’s Model”, as a business decision.

After all, Spanish began to challenge English as the lingua franca of the pop world, as Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi’s single “Despacito” (cheered on by rapper Daddy Yankee) was the best-selling song and the most diffused in 2017 in the United States. And Latin America was the fastest growing sector of the global music industry in 2020, with revenues increasing 16%.

So what does a 67-year-old heritage artist have to lose by repurposing original instrumental tracks from a 43-year-old album, erasing their own lead vocals, and recruiting some of the hottest artists – Fonsi, Chilean talent show winner Cami, Juanes, Oscar winner Jorge Drexler, Menudo alumnus Draco Rosa, Jesse & Joy and others – all the Latin popscapes to sing on?

Turns out “Spanish Model” is a fun and generous project, although one can’t imagine that the original record meant much to one of the 19 artists who reinterpreted the material in their native languages.

“This Year’s Model” was the debut album with Costello and the Attractions, following his 1977 debut “My Aim Is True”, on which he was primarily backed by members of the American country rock band Clover, although future Attraction Steve Nieve played organ and piano on “Watching the Detectives”.

It is perhaps the most commercial punk album ever released, crisp and shattering and with lyrics setting the standard for intelligent punk rock (which can be oxymoronic but is very much in keeping with the crook spirit of rock ‘ n ‘roll). I sometimes listen to the record until the end and I always want to sing along with “Pump It Up”, -costellos -version / “The girl of this year” and “Radio, Radio”. (I don’t. I really don’t. Unless I’m in the car. Alone.)

For me and for many of my generation (the notorious baby boomers), “This Year’s Model” is a touchstone, a nostalgic reminder of those days when we hated nostalgia and wanted to claim the world for ourselves. (We wanted the world and we got it. Our apologies to future generations.)

So hearing the songs from “Spanish Model” is both reassuring and strange; we know the timing, the snap and the doom of Pete Thomas ‘kit, the bounce of Bruce’s bass (no relation) Thomas, but instead of Elvis’ growl, we get that downright foreign sound. Considering the ubiquity of remixes and samples, it’s not exactly a shocking revelation, but it’s a shock.

And if, like me and Elvis Costello, your knowledge of Spanish is rudimentary, there are two ways you can go. You might find it baffling, or you might relax in the emotional melodic flow of vowels and consonants.

One of the problems some of us have with music is focusing too much on the lyrics. Pop songs are not English literature no matter how talented the lyricist is, and we have to understand that there is no profit in forcing meaning into silly love songs.


Sometimes a hearing experience is enhanced when we separate from the performance, Chet Baker’s singing is best received as a sequencing of tones – which he does can seem simplistic until we hear how he focuses on the note and delivers it without vibrato or other embellishment, with a sort of purity closer to a horn than a human voice.

When Ella Fitzgerald scat, she doesn’t sing nonsense – she investigates emotional territories and mystery beyond language.

Obviously Spanish is a language, but not the language for me and for a lot of people who are familiar with ‘this year’s model’. The lyrics of the song have been rewritten, and there is a drastic change in “This Year’s Girl”, a track that can be read as misogynist – “You want her broken with your mouth wide open because she’s the daughter of this year, “short the English language lyrics – although you’re inclined to consider its’ 70s context. (” This year’s model “came out a few months before the Stones” / news / 2021 / sep / 26 / spanish-model-re-contextualizes-costellos-version / “Some Girls” and two years after their “Black and Blue.”)

By the way, a few years ago, in an insightful essay on “overtaking” Costello, published on, writer Holly Marley-Henschen excepted “This Year’s Girl” from Elvis songs that she finds. now reprehensible on the grounds that it “” denigrates a tasteless and trendy attraction to an “It Girl” and not the “It Girl” herself.

And that’s true; Costello’s lyrics are more about the singer’s loathing and loathing for the obsessive fan – who in Elvis World could possibly be the singer himself – than the unapproachable object. By replacing Costello’s voice with that of Chilean solo artist Cami, an interesting tension is inserted for another. Cami rose to fame as the winner of a “Chile’s Got Talent!” Style game show, becoming an instant celebrity in her country.

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Cami’s version of “This Year’s Girl”, renamed “La Chica De Hoy” (“Today’s Girl”), softens some of the more sour lines while signaling solidarity with the subject. The line quoted above becomes La boca abierta y desnutrida porque es la chica de hoy – or, as Google tells me, “Mouth open and malnourished because she’s today’s girl,” which eliminates the explicitly violent image of physical violence (and perhaps even enhances the lyrics of Costello referring to an eating disorder).

Yet while fluency in Spanish almost certainly unlocks another level of the song, you don’t need to know what she’s singing to enjoy Cami’s heady and exuberant read. Her voice doesn’t arrive until 38 seconds after the start of the 3 minute and 40 second track and, if your brain has been fooled by 43 years of listening to the version sung by Elvis, she arrives with shock and inducing elevation. smile. .

Changing the narrator’s gender is a clever movement, coding the perspective away from the male gaze. While part of what makes Costello so compelling as a lyricist is his willingness to tackle the potential ugliness within, many, if not most of his songs are sung from the point of view of creepy men.

Understandably, some people will mistake the singer for the song, and Costello is honest enough to admit his empathy, to use Thomas Wolfe’s phrase, “God’s Lonely Man.” But Cami’s sympathies go very clearly to the woman on the cover of the magazine, although we can’t catch more than a word or two as they go by.

The album’s production notes insist that the original lyrics were adapted in Spanish as precisely as possible, with Sebastian Krys, the Argentinian producer on the project, bringing in established Spanish-speaking songwriters like Andie Sandoval. , Ximena Munoz, Elsten Torres, Luis Miter and Mercedes Migel “Vega” Carpio to rewrite words. But even if we assume a certain fidelity to the original intention, changing the actor necessarily changes the role.

Costello has never denied his past, although he can be sheepish at times about the angry young man character he aggressively portrayed at the time. In 1977, after the release of “My Aim Is True”, he told journalist Nick Kent of the British publication NME that “the only motivating points for me, in writing all these songs, are revenge and guilt. This are the only emotions I know, the only ones I know how to feel. Love? I don’t know what that really means, and it doesn’t exist in my songs. “

Forty-three years after the release of the flagship pop punk album “This Year’s Model”, Elvis Costello has handed the instrumental tracks to a new generation of Spanish-speaking singers. The result is the new album “Spanish Model”.


However, we sometimes feel it here, if only in the reverence with which some of these artists approach the subject. Maybe half of the songs on “Spanish Model” are good, very good, but more or less faithful to the Costello version.

Fonsi – the “Despacito” guy – covers “You Belong to Me” (renamed “Tu Eres Para Mi”) almost politely. Colombian pop group Murten’s version of “Lipstick Vogue” fails to catch. I love the attitude displayed by Gian Marco and his daughter Nicole Zignago on their version of “Crawling to the USA”, but the darker connotations of this immigrant song are completely lost, at least on a non-Spanish speaker. It might have a different effect on someone who actually understands the words.

Another song on the album that is sometimes disparaged as misogynist, “Little Triggers”, is also performed by a singer, La Santa singer Cecilia Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernandez. Renamed “Detonantes”, it is the same soul ballad (the only ballad from the original album), performed only by a singer whose instrument is much more flexible and dynamic than the idiosyncratic voice of Costello.

Whether you prefer Costello’s artfully strained voice or Hernandez’s, the sex politics reversal is interesting and suggests that a level of care has been taken in the artists’ adaptation to the material.

This is probably why Jorge Drexler was awarded “Night Rally”, an explicitly anti-fascist song. Drexler grew up in Uruguay, a country ruled by a military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s; it is a clever move. Renamed “La Turba”, the new track has a poignant strangeness reminiscent of some of Warren Zevon’s collaborations with Jorge Calderon.

On the revamped “Radio, Radio” (the title of several tracks remains in English), Argentinian rock hero Fito Paez, who at 58 is old enough to remember the original, has fun with the lyrics, singing (in Spanish), “I’m getting very British / Night Falls and the sounds of ‘This Year’s Model'” and ends the performance by spitting in English: “I wanna hear this song on … radio, man!”

The chances of that happening aren’t good, although you can sometimes hear the original Phil Spector track on the old-fashioned radio – an irony that can’t be lost on Costello, who has walked the path of sneering punk. abrasive to the eldest of ecumenical music, a kind of cultural treasure even if you can’t sing his way.

“Spanish Model” will solve this problem for some of the population, while Elvis fans might appreciate the playful spirit in which it is offered. One of the catchiest albums of all time – not so far behind Marshall Crenshaw’s 1982 debut album – reoriented itself to focus on remarkable vocal melodies. It’s a new way of hearing old familiars.

And maybe a good business plan too.

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