An album a week #6: Armed Forces by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
It seems to me I’ve been a bit limited in these entries so far — three British acts from the 60s (Townshend, The Stones, Cook & Moore) and two British acts from the late 80s and 90s — The Bluetones and the Manics. So I’m going in a very different direction here and running with a British act first prominent in the 1970s — Elvis Costello and the Attractions. My copy is a tape; here’s the insert unfolded and scanned:
Well, there’s not much to say here; this is EC&TA at the absolute height. There is not a bad track; worst thing about it is a little tape wow at the beginning of side 1, which I think might be particular to my copy.
It’s everything a guitar pop album should be; tuneful, witty yet with something to say. You’ll know ‘Oliver’s Army’, but it’s not more of a stand-out than ‘Two Little Hitlers’ or ‘Accidents Will Happen’. The songs tend to be short, the lyrics a little dark and paranoid, though political rather than personal; he’s the observer on the outside, looking at the world and at other people with a cold eye.
Sometimes he gets accused of his lyrics being too clever; objectively, I think that might be true, but in fact I’ve never been bothered by that. I like pop music that doesn’t treat me like I’ve never read a book. So many songs seem to just rhyme ‘blue’, ‘do’, ‘you’ and ‘through’.
This is one of the essential post-punk albums, almost the quintessence of the new wave, channelling the politics and anger of punk through a more tuneful and poppy sensibility.
A couple of tracks don’t stick in the mind, but maybe that’s a comment on the quality of the rest.