If you've ever been on a train that moved too quickly through a beautiful countryside or had to eat a delicious meal too quickly because of an over-attentive waiter, you'll have some idea of what listening to Costello's fourth LP is like. It's bountiful and quick-footed.
There are 20 tunes (18 originals) crammed into 46 minutes of music. Most songs clock in near the two-minute mark, leaving the listener to fill in the instrumental solos or the expected repetition of a verse. Still, the brevity of the songs matters on only two or three cuts.
Costello's lyrics often are unspecific, but his lines are as sharp as ever — there are so many puns and word games here you can spend a lot of time trying to decipher all of them. Some samples: "I'm in the foxhole / I'm in the trench / I'd be a hero / But I can't stand the stench" (from the excellent "Opportunity," where Costello even attempts a falsetto); "You know all the boys are really girls at heart" (from the jumping "The Imposter") and "I can't stand it when I throw punchlines you can't feel" (from the trashy, flashy "B Movie").
Most of the songs are about the vagaries of love, though to me it sounds as though Costello makes cryptic references to drug addiction ("King Horse") and homosexuality ("Secondary Modern").
There are enough melodies to go with the songs, though no melody is as commanding as "Oliver's Army" or "Alison."
Musically, Costello and the Attractions (a great band, by the way) hop from Stax R&B covers ("I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," "I Stand Accused") to British pop ("Men Called Uncle") to choppy funk ("Black And White World") to country (the exceptional "Motel Matches") to ska (the lively "Human Touch") to waltz (the appealing "New Amsterdam"). Pump it up and get happy.