Sheep to the slaughter, oh I thought this must be love....
Released January 1981
Recorded at Eden Studios, London
Running time 41.09
Before taking a huge gamble with 1981's gamble of an album of Country & Western cover versions in "Almost Blue", Elvis Costello & The Attractions came up with their most eclectic and polished album to date. Whereas the previous outing had been the twenty-song, short, sharp attack of the soul/Motown/Stax vibes of "Get Happy!" The Attractions stuck to their to their trademark organ and bass-dominated sound for much of this album, but also, tellingly, experimented with other influences as well. There were jazzy bits, frantic punk energy, torch song balladry and a country song, for the first time. It was a complex, sophisticated album that showed just how far the new wave had developed in such a short period. This was far more than fist-punching punk rock, (not that Costello had ever delivered that) - it ploughed furrows that were far more innovative and creative. It is clever, witty and solidly rocking too.
Surprisingly, Costello has since said that it was by far his and the band's most drug and drink-addled recording of their career. You would never have known - the musicianship is vibrant, crisp and clear and Costello's delivery anything but slurred. If I hadn't read this, I would have said the exact opposite - that this was their most professional and sober album!
2. Lovers Walk
3. You'll Never Be A Man
4. Pretty Words
5. Strict Time
7. Watch Your Step
8. New Lace Sleeves
9. From A Whisper To A Scream
10. Different Finger
11. White Knuckles
12. Shot With His Own Gun
13. Fish 'n' Chip Paper
14. Big Sister's Clothes
The country sound appears in the catchy "A Different Finger", but there are other styles too - a torch song-style sparse piano-driven ballad in "Shot With His Own Gun"; a frantic, punky blues in "Luxembourg"; "Get Happy!" - style soul in the addictive "Strict Time"; and a more typical Attractions sound in the beautifully evocative "Watch Your Step", the jazzy "Clubland", "New Lace Sleeves" and the jaunty "Fish' n' Chip Paper". "Lovers Walk" has an absolutely addictive staccato beat to it, while "You'll Never Be A Man" is a rousing new wave anthem.
The duet with Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook, "From A Whisper To A Scream" is another enjoyable highlight. "Big Sister's Clothes" is a Costello classic, full of those wonderful lyrical couplets. "White Knuckles" is dark and sombre beneath its typical Attractions backing. "Pretty Words" and the afore-mentioned "You'll Never Be A Man" both have killer hooks, the type of which Costello could trot out in his sleep by now. He is doing far more than just going through the motions though. These are immaculate, finely-tuned contemporary pop songs. Tuneful, yet cynical at the same time.
Costello was moving, however, into a slightly more mature style of composition. This album was something of a benchmark as Costello began to move slowly away from the constrictions of "new wave”. The musicianship on the album is excellent throughout, more inventive than it has ever been, but it is never allowed to become indulgent and, while this is a creative album, it is always down-to-earth, never pretentious.