Alison by Elvis Costello Lyrics Meaning – Unveiling the Layers of Lost Love and Regret

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Elvis Costello's Alison at
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning


Oh, it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl
And with the way you look, I understand that you were not impressed
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
Take off your party dress

I’m not gonna get too sentimental
Like those other sticky valentines
‘Cause I don’t know if you are loving somebody
I only know it isn’t mine

Allison, I know this world is killing you
Oh, Allison, my aim is true

Well, I see you’ve got a husband now
Did he leave your pretty fingers lying in the wedding cake?
You used to hold him right in your hand
But it took all that he could take

Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
When I hear the silly things that you say
I think somebody better put out the big light
‘Cause I can’t stand to see you this way

Allison, I know this world is killing you
Oh, Allison, my aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true
My aim is true

Full Lyrics

Elvis Costello’s ‘Alison,’ a track seeped in tender melancholy and wistful retrospection, stands out as a poignant narrative of lost love and enduring yearning. On the surface, the song may come across simply as a tale of a man encountering an old flame, but beneath the straightforward veneer lies a labyrinth of complex emotions and implied narrative that has captivated listeners since its release in 1977.

While often categorized as a bitter ballad, the song’s intricate lyrics and Costello’s emotive delivery paint a picture far more profound than a mere lament. It’s an exploration of the indelible impact of past relationships, the pain of seeing someone you once cared for falter, and the paradox of feeling powerless yet willing to aid. We dive deep into the haunting subtleties of ‘Alison,’ uncovering the layers that have solidified its place as an unforgettable classic.

A Brush with Nostalgia – But Not as Sweet as it Seems

Costello’s ‘Alison’ opens with a tone of casual reunion, a seemingly innocent encounter tinged with a humorless laugh. The lyrics swiftly reveal that there’s more to the story than pleasantries; the protagonist sees his former love, recognizing that time has altered her—possibly for the worse. The reference to a ‘little friend’ and a ‘party dress’ can imply a tone of judgment or even disappointment, suggesting a past that’s laced with missteps and regret.

As Costello’s voice curls around the words ‘I understand that you were not impressed,’ there’s an unmissable undercurrent of unbalanced power. The song’s protagonist seems to dwell on a shared past and perceived failings, perhaps his own or those of ‘Alison.’ It’s this mixture of personal reflection and critique that drives the narrative into the realm of relational complexity.

The Anguish Behind the Aim – Unraveling the Song’s Hidden Meaning

Central to the song is the refrain ‘Allison, I know this world is killing you / Oh, Allison, my aim is true.’ Costello’s declaration of his ‘true aim’ can be interpreted in several ways. Perhaps he’s asserting the purity of his intentions towards Alison or claiming that his keen perception allows him to see the pain in her life that others don’t. Yet another layer suggests that his aim may refer to the mark he wishes to leave on her life, a desire to be the salve to her wounds.

The ambiguity of the phrase ‘my aim is true’ leaves open the question of whether the protagonist’s intentions are as honorable as he believes, or whether subconscious desires shroud his motivations. In this light, ‘Alison’ is not just a love song, but a nuanced psychological portrait of a character grappling with the complexity of human emotions and connections.

Marriage, Melancholy, and the Male Gaze

As the song progresses, it delves into Allison’s current life, referencing a husband and the telling image of ‘pretty fingers lying in the wedding cake.’ This metaphor can conjure a vision of a woman trapped by the conventions of marriage or perhaps a celebration that’s lost its luster. Costello seems to expose not just a relationship status, but the dull pain of a mundane existence that Allison might be enduring.

There’s a voyeuristic element present in the protagonist’s observations, a sense that he’s peering into a life that he’s no longer a part of, perhaps even critiquing it. His desire to ‘stop you from talking’ when he hears ‘the silly things that you say’ could be seen as a longing to protect ‘Alison’ from herself or a manifestation of his own discomfort with the passage of time and changing roles.

The Lamentable Light – Exploring the Song’s Memorable Lines

One cannot dissect ‘Alison’ without pondering the poignant line ‘I think somebody better put out the big light.’ This suggestion to extinguish the ‘big light,’ a metaphor for truth or harsh reality, suggests a desire to return to darkness—to unknowing or perhaps innocence. It speaks volumes about the protagonist’s wish to shield Alison from the world’s scrutiny, or perhaps from his own penetrating gaze.

The ‘big light’ also serves as a symbol for the end of a performance, the close of day, or in a more tragic sense, the end of a life’s vibrancy. Whether it is the protagonist’s wish to comfort Alison by hiding the pain, or an urge to forget the pain of seeing her in a diminished state, the line resonates as a powerful commentary on love’s ability to both enlighten and to blind.

Longing In the Key of Truth – Sincerity or Self-Deception?

The repetitive nature of the phrase ‘my aim is true’ throughout the song may strike the listener as either a mantra of heartfelt assurance or a case of the narrator trying to convince himself of his own sincerity. The restatement acts as a haunting coda to the story, echoing the uneasy tension between the past and present, the unsaid and the overt, the righteous and the regrettable.

What ‘Alison’ leaves us with is a striking meditation on the ambiguities of love. Costello crafts a sonic narrative that forces listeners to question the reliability of the narrator and to consider the painful dichotomy between love and possession, concern and obsession. As we sift through the lyrical layers, it becomes clear that Elvis Costello’s masterpiece, much like love itself, is as complex and poignant as the human heart.

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