Elvis Costello and the Attractions
This Year's Model
US: May 1978
UK: 17 Mar 1978
“Living In Paradise” is one of Elvis Costello’s unsung masterpieces. The song’s inconvenient placement in the track sequence might in part be responsible for its relative anonymity. The goofy instrumental passage that repeats throughout the song—Bruce Thomas’ disheveled bass-playing, Pete Thomas’ ska drums drenched in that outdated phaser effect that will regrettably rear it’s head twice more in “Lipstick Vogue” and “Radio Radio”, and Steve Nieve’s especially outrageous keyboard noodling—set it apart from anything else on the record (certainly any of the cuts on the second side). It’s closest companion in Costello’s oeuvre is “Sunday’s Best” off the following record Armed Forces, which is similarly too carefree for its own good. It lags, where as the rest of the album is propulsive and emphatic (aka “punk”); it’s the only moment where Costello lets his foot off the accelerator ever so slightly. Both songs disrupt the flow of their respective albums, to an extent; wedged in between the overbearing “Lip Service” and “Lipstick Vogue”, “Living In Paradise” is an awkward cool-down (it probably would have been better as, say, the last track on the first side). But while musically it may be out-of-place, it’s also the most fluid representation of the author’s misogynistic and covetous nature on the record. I am always amazed when those who review This Year’s Model manage to overlook the song entirely . . .
... Because the contempt contained within the opening line alone (“I don’t like those other girls looking at your curves”) seems pretty hard to miss, even amid the conviviality of the accompanying music. It’s followed up by the similarly accusatory “I don’t like you walking ‘round with physical jerks”, which could imply that the girl Elvis is singing about either has an entourage of brawny boys who follow her or, more likely, moves her body suggestively. It’s unclear whether or not this girl actually “belongs” to Costello, or if she’s just an object of his fantasizing, somebody that the narrator desires from afar. Running with the latter interpretation, Elvis occupies sort of a stalker role here: the delusion of reciprocated affection only leads to further disappointment, as Elvis follows his subject around and witnesses her flirting and kissing other men. He feels possessive of a woman he’s not even in a relationship with, to satisfy his own pathological self-destructive tendencies.
The slide guitar in the pre-chorus is one of the few enduring aspects of a country-tinged early version that was recorded during the My Aim Is True sessions. During the second verse, Costello jabs at his sexual ineptitude in one of the subtlest lines on the record: “‘Cause meanwhile up in heaven, they’re awaiting at the gates / Saying “we always knew you’d make it, didn’t think you’d come this late”. Things escalate by the third verse, where Costello watches the girl he’s infatuated with “touch” another boy from the keyhole on her door (“‘Cause I’m the first to know whenever the plans are laid”—again, innuendo). For the final chorus, Costello repeats “Here we are, living in paradise” a total of four times and then sings “limited luxury!” in a different (harmonizing) melody, with all of his energy. For half a minute, he repeats the line “you’re already looking for another fool like me” while Steve Nieve plays an independent keyboard melody underneath him. The repetition here is more effective (and frankly, less annoying) than it is in “Hand In Hand”—as the song fades out, you can almost picture Costello sinking deeper and deeper into an abyss of self-pity.
A live version of the song appears on Live at Hollywood High. At the beginning of the track, Costello thanks the audience for “sticking around after school” and rightly dedicates “Living In Paradise” to “all the boys on the track, the boys in the locker room, and all the physical jerks”. “Living in Paradise” is one of Elvis’ most underrated songs from this period, and in my opinion one of the standout tracks off This Year’s Model. Don’t let the little bit of silliness deter you.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.