Elvis Costello is on the verge of being a has-been in Connecticut.
As of last August, disc jockeys passed over him, ignoring his then-new album, This Year's Model. That record, and this year's model, Armed Forces, are almost as tightly crafted as Costello's first album, lacking only the elements of surprise and rawness of the original work. And even ears that suffer from overkill on A.M. radio, and automatically close when Costello producer Nick Lowe's album is played, might concede that the glossiness of Costello's new production enhances rather than limits his work.
"Moods for Moderns" and "Busy Bodies" treat the lack of communication when *Everybody's getting meaner / busy bodies caught in a constant tremor." From the first note of "Accidents Will Happen" to the fadeout of Lowe's wonderfully melodramatic "What's So Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding," the producer's hands trace a fine line between aiding and constricting Costello.
"Green Shirt," Costello's most unusual new song, is very spare. Like the too-pop "Party Girl," its mainly about sex. "Senior Service." "Oliver's Army." "Goon Squad" attacks corporate autocracy. "Good Squad" echoes the chilly tension of "Gimme Shelter," but is more closely reined in. There is, however, a precision to Costello's work that could be its undoing. Targets are hit too easily, the nicely-woven lyrics promise more depth than they provide. But this is. after all. his third album in less than three years.
"Big Boys" and "Chemistry Class" are warped love songs of sex and competition, as is the reggae-propelled "Two Little Hitlers," which is one of the singer's best, most complete songs to date. This is evident especially in "Oliver's Army," which because of Phil Spector's penchant for overtracking sounds like a travel ad for mercenary troops.
Don't start me talking, I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalkin' while I'm putting the world to right
Call Korea's Information — have you got yourself an occupation?
Oliver's army is here to stay, Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else but here today