Elvis Costello and lyrics have always been linked together like a mysterious movie is; with death, and cyanide. Sure his lyrics were killers, but they were often far below the surface, where it was hard to bring the evidence to light. On his latest album, Armed Forces, Elvis brings his words to the surface like a piranha during a feeding — and they attack with the same force.
On his first two albums, Mr. Costello's anger was directed predominately at the disillusionment that occurs in male/female relationships. On Armed Forces his anger is directed more towards the disillusionment with our political world. Remaining true to form, however, Elvis continues to strike out from a personal stance. Songs such as "Senior Service," "Oliver's Army," "Green Shirt," and "Goon Squad," work because they are always seen through the eyes of the victim. In "Goon Squad," we have a young boy who joined the army because he believed in all the posters that proclaim the benefits of joining. Once he has joined, however, reality strikes him, as he writes home to his mother and father:
I could be a corporal into corporal punishment
Or the general manager of a large establishment
They pat some good-byes on the back,
They put some to the rod
But I never thought they'd put me in the
This formula is then reversed, later in the record, on a song entitled "Two Little Hitlers." Here Elvis uses a universal symbol such as Hitler, to drive home a point about personal relationships. As a relationship dissolves, Elvis sees it as just a game between
Two little Hitlers who fight it out until
One little Hitler does the other one's will.
Any Elvis Costello fan who has lived through, and identified with Elvis' progression on his rust three albums, cannot help but look forward to his next album. Elvis has confessed to having only two emotions — guilt and revenge — but by choosing Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," to end this album, he is setting the stage for a new angle on his future albums. In one of his best vocal performances ever, Elvis delivers this last song with bitterness in his voice, but not satire. Elvis finally confesses to what we've known all along, for all his anger, and all the pain he's seen, Elvis is still a romantic.