Friday, 3 August 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Punch The Clock (1983)


Released August 1983

For me, the great period of Elvis Costello & The Attractions began with the first album together, 1978's "This Year's Model" and continued until the highly impressive, career high of 1982's "Imperial Bedroom". The following year, during a period when "New Romanticism", preening pop poseurs and synthesised, electric keyboard-dominated music were everywhere, Costello released an album of upbeat, pop songs, but ones driven by melodic piano riffs and punchy horn sounds, backed up by female backing vocals. It was a catchy album, with not many archetypal, mournful, bleak Costello laments. It was, it would seem, a deliberate attempt to produce an album that would appeal to the mainstream pop audience. It did, and it didn't. There were two excellent singles, that are actually the the first two tracks on the album - the pulsating, horn-driven "Let Them All Talk" and the instant likeable "Everyday I Write the Book", with its easily singable chorus. Most of the album's other material was lively, full of horn attack and convincing vocals, but it was still Elvis Costello, packed full of oblique lyrics and killer, cynical couplets, like that found on the otherwise jaunty "Love Went Mad" - "I wish you luck with a capital 'f'...". Costello, really, despite a few hit singles, would always be something of a cult artist, despite the fetching, rather showy leather jacket he sported on the promotional pictures. I did buy a similar jacket myself, however. In all seriousness, though, the jacket showed Costello trying to be showy. All that raw, punky edge had dissipated, as, of course, had the whole punk ethos in general. These were the worst traits of the mid eighties. Fashion and music was expected to be showy. A sun-tanned David Bowie was wearing a suit and tie, Paul Weller wearing pristine white denim jacket and trousers, Mick Jagger similarly bright, pastel-shades. Music had to be poppy, too - "Let's Dance", "Shout To The Top" and the like. Costello was trying, unconvincingly at times, to plough the same furrow.


1. Let Them All Talk
2. Every Day I Write The Book
3. The Greatest Thing
4. The Element Within Her
5. Love Went Mad
6. Shipbuilding
7. TKO (Boxing Day)
8. Charm School
9. The Invisible Man
10. Mouth Almighty
11. King Of Thieves
12. Pills And Soap
13. The World And His Wife

All the tracks are appealing in their very similar way - the funky "The Greatest Thing"; the piano boogie backing from Steve Nieve on "Love Went Mad"; the typical Costello cynicism on the bassy "King Of Thieves", "Mouth Almighty" and the slow, soulful "Charm School". "The Element Within Her" and "The Invisible Man" hark back to the Motown-influenced, short piano-driven romps of the "Get Happy" album. It is almost as if he is trying to re-create his previous successes, though, somehow.

"TKO (Boxing Day)" is another one that features a mighty, strident horn riff, as also does "The World And His Wife". All these tracks are quite indistinguishable from each other in some ways - all containing addictive hooks in some places, immaculate piano and bass and lots of classic Costello lyrics.

What is left? The two intense, evocative slow numbers - the Falklands War-referencing "Shipbuilding" with its stately feel, emotively-delivered vocals from Costello and simply wonderful French horn solo at the end. A truly mighty track. The animal welfare anthem, "Pills And Soap" is stark and staccato, sombre and bleak in its message and majestic in its piano and vocal set-up. These two songs are the album's two real classic moments.

This is not a bad album, for sure, but for some reason it is not one I return to very often if I am in a Costello frame of mind. There is something about it that makes me feel Costello was trying too hard to be something he wasn't. "Imperial Bedroom", in contrast, had been effortlessly brilliant.


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