Saturday, 2 June 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Armed Forces (1979)

Don't start me talking....

  

Released June 1979

Recorded at Eden Studios, London

Running time 40.05

After 1978's "This Year's Model", by 1979, Elvis Costello and The Attractions had made their organ and bass-dominated sound something of a trademark. Nowhere is it exemplified better than on this album, which became on of their most popular. Personally, there are others I prefer more, but it is twelve (thirteen if you include "What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding") perfectly constructed three minute "New Wave" pop songs set against some observant, cynical lyrics. Bruce Thomas's bass never sounded better than it does here. This was an all-out attempt to make a poppy-commercially-appealing album, leaving behind the slight reggae influences of tracks like "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea" and the punkiness of "Pump It Up". 


Peversely, however, while the music was becoming more accessible, lyrically, he was becoming a tad more insular, cynical and paranoid in a "they're all out to get you" 1984 kind of way. Songs like "Goon Squad", "Senior Service", "Green Shirt", "Busy Bodies" and indeed, "Oliver's Army" are all fine examples of this. So, while it was evidently poppy, there was still an intense, urgent density to it as well, making it quite a beguiling record. The cover and inner sleeves were full of photographic symbolism and slogans like "emotional fascism" that only helped to add to the feeling. 

Costello, looking back at the album many years, said this about his songwriting -

"....Some of the highly charged language may now seem a little naive. It is full of gimmicks and almost overpowers some songs with paradoxes and subverted clich├ęs piling up into private and secret meanings. I was not quite 24 and thought I knew it all...."

Despite all its good points, there was just a little something about this album, though, and its presentation, that came across as a bit self-satisfied and possessing of a feeling that it was better than it actually was. 

TRACK LISTING

1. Accidents Will Happen

2. Senior Service
3. Oliver's Army
4. Big Boys
5. Green Shirt
6. Party Girl
7. Goon Squad
8. Busy Bodies
9. Sunday's Best
10. Moods For Moderns
11. Chemistry Class
12. Two Little Hitlers
13. What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding

Backed by a mainstream TV advertising campaign (highly unusual, if not unique, for "pop" albums in 1979 - just showed how far "punk/New Wave" had come in three/four short years), the big hits "Oliver's Army", with its Abba-inspired keyboard riff, and "Accidents Will Happen" are obvious standouts, but other highlights are the sparse, mysterious "Green Shirt" (what was that one all about?), the futuristic-sounding organ-driven "Busy Bodies", the upbeat, bluesy "Goon Squad" and the lyrically potent "Two Little Hitlers". "Senior Service" has a quirky, stacatto appeal too, while "Party Girl" is the album's one example of the sort of smoky ballad that Costello would record many more of over subsequent years. 

There are a few inconsequential songs, though, the fairground organ swirl of “Sunday’s Best”, the cod-funk of “Moods For Moderns” and the pretty inpenetrable “Chemistry Class” in particular. Better was to come, however. For some, though, this was The Attraction's best album. For some reason, though, I rarely return to it all these years later. 

Costello himself views it quite positively though, especially viewed through the context of The Attractions' progress as a band -

"...The confidence and cohesion of The Attractions' playing is the product of twelve months of intense touring. The sessions were not without dissent and tension, but we probably never had quite this level of consistent musical agreement again..."

B-

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