Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces (1979)

AllMusic Review: After releasing and touring the intense This Year’s Model, Elvis Costello quickly returned to the studio with the Attractions to record his third album, Armed Forces. In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, Armed Forces boasted a detailed and textured pop production, but it was hardly lavish. However, the more spacious arrangements — complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies — accent Costello’s melodies, making the record more accessible than his first two albums. Perversely, while the sound of Costello’s music was becoming more open and welcoming, his songs became more insular and paranoid, even though he cloaked his emotions well. Many of the songs on Armed Forces use politics as a metaphor for personal relationships, particularly fascism, which explains its working title, Emotional Fascism. Occasionally, the lyrics are forced, but the music never is — the album demonstrates the depth of Costello’s compositional talents and how he can move from the hook-laden pop of “Accidents Will Happen” to the paranoid “Goon Squad” with ease. Some of the songs, like the light reggae of “Two Little Hitlers” and the impassioned “Party Girl,” build on his strengths, while others like the layered “Oliver’s Army” take Costello into new territories. It’s a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Accidents Will Happen” 3:00
2. “Senior Service” 2:17
3. “Oliver’s Army” 2:58
4. “Big Boys” 2:54
5. “Green Shirt” 2:42
6. “Party Girl” 3:20
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Goon Squad” 3:14
8. “Busy Bodies” 3:33
9. “Sunday’s Best” 3:22
10. “Moods for Moderns” 2:48
11. “Chemistry Class” 2:55
12. “Two Little Hitlers” 3:18

 

 

Schill Score: 7.25/10

 

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Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model (1978)

AllMusic Review: Where My Aim Is True implied punk rock with its lyrics and stripped-down production, This Year’s Model sounds like punk. Not that Elvis Costello’s songwriting has changed — This Year’s Model is comprised largely of leftovers from My Aim Is True and songs written on the road. It’s the music that changed. After releasing My Aim Is True, Costello assembled a backing band called the Attractions, which were considerably tougher and wilder than Clover, who played on his debut. The Attractions were a rock & roll band, which gives This Year’s Model a reckless, careening feel. It’s nervous, amphetamine-fueled, nearly paranoid music — the group sounds like they’re spinning out of control as soon as they crash in on the brief opener, “No Action,” and they never get completely back on track, even on the slower numbers. Costello and the Attractions speed through This Year’s Model at a blinding pace, which gives his songs — which were already meaner than the set on My Aim Is True — a nastier edge. “Lipstick Vogue,” “Pump It Up,” and “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea” are all underscored with sexual menace, while “Night Rally” touches on a bizarre fascination with fascism that would blossom on his next album, Armed Forces. Even the songs that sound relatively lighthearted — “Hand in Hand,” “Little Triggers,” “Lip Service,” “Living in Paradise” — are all edgy, thanks to Costello’s breathless vocals, Steve Nieve’s carnival-esque organ riffs, and Nick Lowe’s bare-bones production. Of course, the songs on This Year’s Model are typically catchy and help the vicious sentiments sink into your skin, but the most remarkable thing about the album is the sound — Costello and the Attractions never rocked this hard, or this vengefully, ever again. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “No Action” 1:58
2. “This Year’s Girl” 3:17
3. “The Beat” 3:45
4. “Pump It Up” 3:14
5. “Little Triggers” 2:40
6. “You Belong to Me” 2:22
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Hand in Hand” 2:33
2. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” 3:07
3. “Lip Service” 2:36
4. “Living in Paradise” 3:52
5. “Lipstick Vogue” 3:42
6. “Night Rally” 2:41

 

Schill Score:  8/10

 

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Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977)

AllMusic Review: Elvis Costello was as much a pub rocker as he was a punk rocker and nowhere is that more evident than on his debut, My Aim Is True. It’s not just that Clover, a San Franciscan rock outfit led by Huey Lewis (absent here), back him here, not the Attractions; it’s that his sensibility is borrowed from the pile-driving rock & roll and folksy introspection of pub rockers like Brinsley Schwarz, adding touches of cult singer/songwriters like Randy Newman and David Ackles. Then, there’s the infusion of pure nastiness and cynical humor, which is pure Costello. That blend of classicist sensibilities and cleverness make this collection of shiny roots rock a punk record — it informs his nervy performances and his prickly songs. Of all classic punk debuts, this remains perhaps the most idiosyncratic because it’s not cathartic in sound, only in spirit. Which, of course, meant that it could play to a broader audience, and Linda Ronstadt did indeed cover the standout ballad “Alison.” Still, there’s no mistaking this for anything other than a punk record, and it’s a terrific one at that, since even if he buries his singer/songwriter inclinations, they shine through as brightly as his cheerfully mean humor and immense musical skill; he sounds as comfortable with a ’50s knockoff like “No Dancing” as he does on the reggae-inflected “Less Than Zero.” Costello went on to more ambitious territory fairly quickly, but My Aim Is True is a phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Welcome to the Working Week” 1:22
2. “Miracle Man” 3:31
3. “No Dancing” 2:39
4. “Blame it on Cain” 2:49
5. “Alison” 2:54
6. “Sneaky Feelings” 2:09
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” 2:47
2. “Less Than Zero” 3:15
3. “Mystery Dance” 1:38
4. “Pay it Back” 2:33
5. “I’m Not Angry” 2:57
6. “Waiting for the End of the World” 3:22

 

Schill Score:  8.75/10

 

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