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Elvis Costello
Albums

  • My Aim Is True ,
  • This Years Model ,
  • Armed Forces ,
  • Get Happy ,
  • Almost Blue








  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    Elvis Costello

    armed forces my aim is true get happy almost blue

    My Aim Is True ( 1977 )
    Welcome to the Working Week / Miracle Man / No Dancing / Blame It on Cain / Alison / Sneaky Feelings / (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes / Less Than Zero / Mystery Dance / Pay It Back / I'm Not Angry / Waiting for the End of the World

    Call him a punk Buddy Holly if you will but Elvis never really fit comfortably within the punk mould. He was and always will be 'new wave' or these days a mere singer/songwriter. Declan Patrick MacManus a mere singer/songwriter? I mean of course no disrespect and categorizing the man is doing him a disservice in the first place. Although his debut LP 'My Aim Is True' is obtensibly a straight collection of energetic punkish, literate songs all using the same 4/4 rhythm there are hints of more underneath. The lyrics display adequate heartbreaks in clever ways. His voice is distinctive and yes, faint echoes of a Buddy Holly, although without the hiccuping. I'm reviewing the UK version of the album,by the way, so, no 'Watching The Detectives' and no dozen bonus tracks. We like to keep things simple over here at adriandenning.co.uk, although head into the store and you can buy all the Elvis Costello double CD sets your heart desires! Plug over. 'My Aim Is True' is a defiantly retro album musically, with the Fifties being the most popular decade Elvis borrows from yet the Sixties also get a shoe-in, notably Motown and soul stylings. The guitar the opens the fine ''The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes' reminds me of The Byrds and folk/rock. 'No Dancing' is The Supremes and Sixties girl groups. Both of these 'Sixites' inspired songs are amongst my favourites here.

    In the songs you will definitely have heard stakes we have the brief 'Welcome To The Working Week' opener, an exellent two minute statement of intent. The lovely 'Alison' everyone will have heard, it's been featured in movies and often played on the radio. Sweet country-styled guitar licks, a heavy soul feeling in the perfectly placed, accomplished vocal, surely the loveliest Elvis's voice sounds on this thirty two minute debut LP. We get blues/rock for 'Blame It On Cain' and the nearest we get to a forgettable track with the 50's rock n roll of 'Mystery Dance', although this tune does sport a scorching guitar solo. Considering new artists these days, this LP charting top twenty in the UK and top forty in the US meant that Elvis was instantly successful, although not yet a household name. He'd quickly follow-up this set and build on the momentum this almost universally liked debut album created for him.

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    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    1st costello album , songs fill the gaps between the beatles ,byrds and the band . The main problem is the pick up band backing elvis , you get the feeling they didnt have much time to work with the songs . The sound quality is also basic in the extreme. Songs are generally fine , i especially like angels,blame it on cain and the sun sessions rockabilly of mystery dance (which costello does still does live) Alison is beautiful - a classic song never to be forgotton . The gauche politics of less than zero has a good chorus but weak verses. Joe jackson,graham parker and nick lowe were all making similar kinds of records to be honest but he quickly fulfilled his potential when he hooked up with the attractions . i give it 7/10

    Bill Michigan
    People tend to forget that in 1977 the disco era was still alive. Elvis helped chart a new, stripped down sound that hearkens back to the 50's and 60's. The songs are very strong lyrically and the vocals are outstanding. Unfortunately, he uses Clover (no Attractions) as the band, and that affects the overall quality of the sound in this record. I think 8 1/2 is appropriate for this ambitious effort. No Dancing is the sleeper track on this CD.


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    This Years Model ( 1978 )
    No Action / This Year's Girl / The Beat / Pump It Up / Little Triggers / You Belong To Me / Hand In Hand / I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea / Lip Service / Living In Paradise / Lipstick Vogue / Night Rally / Radio, Radio

    Meet 'The Attractions', meet youthful energetic music and meet the keyboard which was a missing piece in the Elvis jigsaw allowing him to base songs on yet more styles from bygone eras as well as continue to piece together his own contemporary style. 'This Year's Girl' has a cool, psychedelic styled outro, just briefly. There are two 'songs you'll have heard', which i'll discuss later. The sound of 'This Years Model' is very similar to the debut with the obvious exception of the keyboards/organ sounds running throughout, so much so, they become the key instrument, even over and above the guitar lines. Elvis instantly trying to distance himself from the majority of the punk scene, it would seem. He's still digging for gold in the past though, 'You Belong To Me' his 'Jumping Jack Flash'. Chiming guitars are heard during 'Lip Service', although comparing 'Lip Service' to any chiming guitars of the 60's is made harder by the organ sounds running throughout, as I said, a missing piece in the Elvis jigsaw. 'Pump It Up' mixes northern soul with Bob Dylan and comes out smiling, a stupendous song, no question about it. The other 'song you will have heard' is of course 'I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea', a song that mixes reggae with, well, I don't know actually. There seems to be some sixties soul mixed in there as well as 60's beat groups circa The Animals or The Doors.

    I adore the opening tune here, 'There's No Action'. Similarly to the opener on 'My Aim Is True' you just yearn for this song to be longer than a mere couple of minutes. We needed a ballad to vary the album and 'Little Triggers' provides quality in the ballad stakes, a maturity few other contemporaries of Elvis's were providing. I can't get my head around the fact that whilst 'This Years Model' is another fine LP that it doesn't quite have the tunes of the debut. Well, that's common with a lot of 'follow-up' LP's isn't it? The lumpy reggae of 'Living In Paradise' fails to convince me, in fact the closing five songs or so fail to convince me, bar the closing 'Radio Radio' which sports a fine pop melody. Still, this is early days in the lengthy Elvis Costello career and 'This Years Model' did the job it needed to at the time.

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    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    dogs bollocks this one . What a band the attractions were , incredible musicians. Elvis had toured with these guys a bit prior to recording and you can hear a hungry band backing songs that are pent up, pilled up songs of frustration and disgust with the opposite sex .Macca would have killed for songs like "this years girl" and "living in paradise" and i can almost hear him singing them . "you belong to me" is the stones circa aftermath backing dylan circa highway 61 and pump it up straps subterranean homesick blues to a jet plane . "chelsea" reminds me of the ska boom that was big in the UK at the time (costello went on to produce the specials) "lipstick vogue" with its drastic tempo changes and twists just shows how accomplished this band became at backing costellos songs so quickly. "little triggers" documents empty sexual conquests with the attractions providing a lovely memphis soul backing . Ive never been crazy about night rally but it doesnt matter , ! this is easily in the top 5 costello records and one for every discerning listeners collection.

    Bill Michigan
    In addition to Steve Nieve on piano, the other main ingredient added on this album is Bruce Thomas on bass. Always underrated, Mr. Thomas always plays a huge role in Elvis' songs. On this album we find out that Elvis IS angry and he is going to tell you why. The version of Night Rally on "Girls, Girls, Girls" is much stronger, and I enjoyed Lipstick Vogue (another bass-strong song). Hand In Hand's beginning shows the maturity developing in Elvis as he "bends" the sound of the song. Yes, there are a few weaker songs (Living in Paradise, Chelsea, and Lip Service), but there is enough to put this sophomore effort at 8 to 8 1/2. 7 seems to low based on the strength of the 8-9 strong songs.


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    Armed Forces 9 ( 1979 )
    Accidents Will Happen / Senior Service / Oliver's Army / Big Boys / Green Shirt / Party Girl / Goon Squad / Busy Bodies / Sunday's Best / Moods for Moderns / Chemistry Class / Two Little Hitlers

    The possibilities of The Attractions as Elvis backing band were now being fully explored with keyboardist / piano player Steve Nieve particularly coming to the fore creatively. 'Armed Forces' is also probably Elvis Costello’s most commercially successful album. The original title was 'Emotional Fascism', an apt title for this collision of the personal and the political. Compared to the previous LPs, the production is somewhat shiny, in a pop rather than a rock vein but this came from Elvis Costello briefly wanting to play the game and sell records. He'd quickly get tired of the game and declare himself unhappy with the LP, although really he was only unhappy with what came with touring America and having to smile more than is naturally healthy. So, Steve Nieve remembers Abba and transforms slated b-side 'Olivers Army' into hit a-side material with his arpeggios. Straight out of 'Dancing Queen', this music married to one of Elvis finest vocals was bound to be his breakthrough smash and so it was, at least in Europe and the UK and 'Olivers Army' is still the song most associated with Elvis Costello in this country, all these years later. These twelve songs are infused, not particular with Elvis obsessions such as Van Morrison and singer/songwriters, rather The Beatles and pop construction. Elvis proves to himself he's a master of pop construction should he want to be, every song is wonderfully formed and he doesn't let his lyrical side down, he's still as sharp as knives lyrically.

    I'm not sure the swirling circus music of 'Sunday's Best' suits the words, the song seems to have some kind of unhealthy, clumsy rhythm. It's a rare mis-step on this strong record album. 'Moods For Moderns' has a cousin in 'Pump It Up' from the previous LP. The opening 'Accidents Will Happen' is just glorious music, a superb mix of melody and clever lyrics and it's addictive listening. Indeed, the first three songs are all superb, the slinky 'Senior Service' flowing into the all-time classic 'Olivers Army. 'Green Shirt' is a minor-masterpieces and the two songs after, darker pieces that please this listener. 'Party Girl' sounds like a hangover and 'Goon Squad' like a call to arms, listen to this. The 2nd half of the album is only slightly less pleasing than the first and 'Armed Forces' is certainly one of Elvis finest moments as both a performer and a composer. Abba or no Abba.

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    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Costellos 3rd was his most sucessful commercially at the time . On the back of the glorious "olivers army" and "accidents will happen" costello was now firmly a top 10 pop star . Not a world he felt comfortable in judging by the lyrics here . The musics incredibly intricate and varied considering the limited tools the band had to work with . The lyrics are superb , showing costellos concerns of the time - politics (sexual and world) and disgust with the vagaries of fame and the music business. Theres also a beatlesesque edge to the production , "greenshirt" is little more than a synth pulse and a stacatto drum fill but its perfect , "senior service" and "2 little hitlers" boast lennon style melodies that make you want to keep playing them . "party girl" is typical of the kind of soul styled ballad the attractions produced at the time before fully exploring soul and rnb with "get happy" ."goon squads" paranoid rush is a great way to start the 2nd side too. i agr! ee with adrian "sundays best" seems a little obtrusive with its waltz time music and rather overcooked lyric, but its a rare misstep . This record has stood the test of time very well indeed and replacing "sundays best" with "peace love and understanding" would have got a 9 from me . Costellos lengthy american tours were taking a toll however and after his drunken "nigger" comments about ray charles his american career stalled for a while . Instead the police picked up the slack . But in its own way it was a good move taking elvis out of the commercial treadmill and allowing his music space to develop showing that even at this early stage costello had the awareness to learn from the mistakes of his heroes . 8/10

    Petteri Aro lampwick1906@yahoo.com
    To be exact "Oliver's Army" steals half of the melody from ABBA's "Dance while the music still goes on" - I guess ABBA never cared to make a fuss about that...


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    Get Happy ( 1980 )
    Love for Tender / Opportunity / The Imposter / Secondary Modern / King Horse / Possession / Men Called Uncle / Clowntime Is Over / New Amsterdam / High Fidelity / I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down) / Black & White World / 5ive Gears in Reverse / B Movie / Motel Matches / Human Touch / Beaten to the Punch / Temptation / I Stand Accused / Riot Act

    During his tour of the USA in 1979 Elvis Costello got involved in a drunken baroom argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. Not only did he call Stills 'old steel nose' but he then decided to call Ray Charles a 'blind, ignorant n***er' and also criticized James Brown. The fallout threatened to bury Costello but returning with 'Get Happy' was something of a sly response. 'Get Happy' of course is Costello's soul album, then? Well, it is almost ,but not quite his soul album - he changes the direction of the Sam and Dave tune 'I Can't Stand Up' for example into pure new-wave pop. He makes the song firmly his own. There are also no lengthy soul jams here, rather a rush of twenty songs in just fifty minutes. The first two songs both have deep, melodic bass lines which could matter adversely, but thankfully during 'Opportunity' in particular the bass melody is constantly interesting. 'Love For Tender' meanwhile could almost pass for a song by The Supremes. The songs fly past and the lyrics are packed in. Even a song such as 'Posession' ( and dig the Sixties style organ sounds! ) the lyrics tell a story and pack in some excellent rhymes - You lack lust, you're so lacklustre / Is that all the strength you can muster. Bit silly pulling out individual lines though. 'Get Happy' works on many levels, basically. The songs rarely come across as being like each other, the lyrics are there for people that want the meaning, and the musicianship is superb from The Attractions. Something for everyone then? Quite possibly, quite possibly. The advantage of the songs all being so short is also key, you never get bored.

    Highlights then? Well, the single of course, a romping cover of a Sam and Dave b-side, believe it or not. 'Secondary Modern' is a novel in song form and also a welcome slower tune after the fairground circus on speed that is 'The Imposter'. 'Man Called Uncle' is a throwback to the sound of 'Armed Forces' with the keyboards of Steve Nieve much to the fore. 'New Amsterdam' is a Costello standard and quite remarkably, 'thrown away' as track nine on this twenty track trek through Costello's fertile imagination. 'Motel Matches' highlights the Costello vocals very well. He seems underrated as an actual vocalist to me, sure his vocals are quite idiosyncratic, yet the way he stretches his voice on 'Motel Matches' is very pleasing. Oh, you wanted soul? 'Temptation' has bunches of it. The sound of 'Get Happy' relies on the bass-lines, the keyboards/organ buried in the mix - well, certainly compared to previous Attractions outings. Apart from the odd noticeable acoustic, lead guitar is also relegated. This is the rhythm sections chance to shine and they do so very well throughout 'Get Happy'. 'Temptation' then gets in more words than a two and a half minute song has any right to and is a good example of 'Get Happy' overall. What else? Well, not much point describing even more songs. Let's just say that 'Get Happy' is an excellent release covering a variety of styles, even reggae in places. The soul description is slightly misleading, although Elvis and band certainly altered their sound. Well, 'Armed Forces Part Two' may have been the smart commercial move, yet Elvis Costello has always seemed a little uncomfortable in the limelight, much to his various record companies despair. <

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    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    This is a classic , possibly costellos best album . He was clearly firing on all cylinders at this point . Lyrically this is one of his best but the attractions backing is simply incendiary . They clearly relished the soul type arrangements here . While im not crazy about a couple of the songs on the b side , theyre over in a minute or so and replaced by a stronger one . The RnB style settings suit the songs but their are also sidesteps into country balladry for "motel matches" and even dub on "b-movie" If youre looking for a costello studio album start with this or "this years model" both of which are superior to "my aim is true" and "armed forces" , despite the markings of mr denning . OH and anyone who can pen a couplet rhyming "compliment collector" with "funeral director" is pretty cool in my book.


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    Trust ? ( 1981 )
    Clubland / Lovers Walk / You'll Never Be a Man / Pretty Words / Strict Time / Luxembourg / Watch Your Step / New Lace Sleeves / From a Whisper to a Scream / Different Finger / White Knuckles / Shot With His Own Gun / Fish 'N' Chip Paper / Big Sister's Clothes

    Coming soon....

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    Bill Michigan
    Elvis clearly is in a very prolific period of songwriting. Whereas previously EC songs were heavy in bass and organ, in this album Steve Nieve brings his piano playing to the fore. I believe this album may be stronger than Armed Forces. Clubland never received the commercial play that Alison or Accidents Will Happen, but it is a very strong start. The originality of Lover's Walk, Strict Time and the quirky but excellent Big Sister's Clothes showcases his more mature songwriting skills. New Lace Sleeves is one of my favorite EC tunes --the piano now taking lead, while Shot With His Own Gun is one of his best ballads. Of course, a ballad about domestic abuse - EC does things his way! Watch Your Step was played live on the Tom Snyder show along with an EC interview. It also is a very original song - different from EC's earlier work. In general, the whole album is filled with fantastically written songs that blaze new ground in style and sound. Not a bad song one on the album. If you are an EC fan, you have to listen to this album all the way through to appreciate the stunning originality of the songs. 9 to 9 1/2 on the rating meter!


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    Almost Blue 8 ( 1981 )
    Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do) / Sweet Dreams / Success / I'm Your Toy (Hot Burrito #1) / Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down / Brown to Blue / A Good Year for the Roses / Sittin' and Thinkin' / Colour of the Blues / Too Far Gone / Honey Hush / How Much I Lied

    So, Elvis records an album of country covers? In this day and age, we know that Costello has the tendency to do all sorts of odd things yet back in the day the very thought of Elvis doing a covers album,and not only that but one in the style of the very un-punk country ethos, was enough to send his fan-base apoplectic. The Attractions are all present and correct as in some guy who used to be in The Doobie Brothers, no doubt for the more difficult Pedal Steel parts. Yet, they make few concessions to trying to be all Nashville, the balance is better than that. A true country connoisseur would no doubt find fault then, but it's not really about the style, it's about the songs. It's about the songs and Elvis becoming more than just a Buddy Holly style punk icon who had a hit with 'Olivers Army'. 'Almost Blue' demonstrates Costello's superb interpretive abilities, so much so, this has to go down as one of the more artistically satisfying covers projects, almost ever. Well, 'Honey Hush' utterly fails to convince, being more in a rock n roll mode, a style you'd have thought he'd handle better than country. My thoughts on 'Honey Hush'? Well, where's the echo, why is the production suddenly so sterile when on the marvellous likes of 'A Good Year For The Roses' the sound is natural and spot on?

    Patsy Cline's 'Sweet Dreams' is gorgeously rendered by Costello, proving he can do the ballads very well indeed. 'A Good Year For The Roses' upps the ante even further and has become a Costello classic even though he never wrote the tune himself. Hank Williams 'Why Don't You Love Me' is barely country at all as performed here by Costello. This borders on holiday-camp rock music, albeit expertly played. The energy is here that was lacking in 'Honey Hush', yet the sound is still a little sterile for such rock n roll type music. For pure country, we get the likes of 'Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down', 'Brown To Blue' and 'Success' and nice thought these tunes are, the album wouldn't have worked without the variety brought by the likes of 'Why Don't You Love Me' or 'A Good Year For The Roses'. All in all then, a plesant surprise. The album isn't going to amaze you to the extent you'll likely believe it a vital document, yet there is much to admire here all the same.

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    Bill Michigan
    Very strong comments. I agree with them, but feel that you forgot "I'm Your Toy" which appears on the album twice (the new release has the live version as a bonus). The studio version is very good and the live version is outstanding. Another sleeper on the bonus tracks is Psycho - a very disturbing song that is classic EC (not written by EC of course, but sounds like it could be) As a huge EC fan that doesn't care for classic country, Elvis really picks some very good songs and with Bruce on bass and Steve on some REALLY fine piano, this album is very strong. Make sure you pick up the Ryko bonus edition. Yes, skip "Honey Hush", but you won't be skipping many other tracks! 8 1/2


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    this page last updated 9/02/11


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