In a world littered with uneven (and largely ghosted) celebrity memoirs, Unfaithful Music is a beautifully written revelation. Dare I blaspheme by declaring I liked it even more than the excellent memoirs produced by Bob Dylan and Keith Richards? Costello embraces the basic qualities of good storytelling: the use of detail, tension and humor. At 672 pages, Unfaithful Music is actually a breeze.
If there is a problem with this book it may be that, while Costello does a great job of showing us the man (or several men) he was back then, I’m not sure he comes close to explaining what was going on inside him – why he did what he did and sang what he sang.
John Updike wisely counseled reviewers to avoid chiding an author 'for not achieving what he did not attempt.' But even the most generous listener might finish Costello’s baggy tale with a hunger for two or three shorter ones he could have told, each with a considerably sharper focus.
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink ranges widely and wildly, offering beautiful passages about finding music and losing one's self, but it never clearly accounts for the prim horniness and sexual disgust of those early records, for the creative energy he invested in such brutality — and in records he now describes as bitter little songs that only appealed to a certain kind of creep.
In short, writers like Costello because he has always taken writing seriously. That's obvious to anyone who pays attention to his lyrics, and it's even more apparent to anyone who reads Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, his charming new autobiography. The book is refreshingly free of salacious gossip and needless name-dropping; it's an intelligent self-assessment from a musician who went from angry young man to elder statesman of pop.
Though burdened in its second half by the author’s tendency to trade reflection for an exhaustive cataloging of stage and television appearances, songwriting collaborations, and star-mingling, the account is often as incisive, affecting, and rich as his best songs.
This sense of time, or music, cycling back upon itself gives the memoir its most sustaining resonance...In that regard, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is less a memoir as we've come to expect it than a kind of creative autobiography, a portrait of the artist from the inside out.
Elvis may yet blossom in a new literary career, much as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has done in his post-basketball life. It's easy to imagine Costello emerging as a pundit for all seasons. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is a start.
Unfaithful Music is often exasperating, but then so is its subject...Just when it seems as though the incomparably talented, undeniably egotistical Costello has worn out his welcome, he draws the reader back in with one of his patented bouts of self-loathing. It’s a charming trick that has served his exquisitely barbed music especially well over his four-plus decades in the business.
The writing is occasionally overwrought, and the abundant analysis of his lyrics sometimes dry. But when he's good, he's excellent...The story unfolds like a movie that jumps across time, more thematic than chronological, as boyhood anecdotes and obsessions intersect with mature songs and adult reckoning.
For all his immense talent and ego, Costello is admirably quick to credit the many musicians who helped make his career shine, especially Nick Lowe and Fort Worth’s T Bone Burnett, two first-rate producers who sharpened and edited his best albums. It’s too bad he didn’t ask them to do the same with Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.