It's hard to believe, but it has been less than one year since the release of Elvis Costello's first singles on the Stiff label in England. These records arrived in America as part of the New Wave of British music last summer. Costello's efforts seemed to hover above the rest, with many American listeners being attracted to Costello's camp by just these singles.
His debut album was first released in England around midsummer, with the American interest in Costello becoming more apparent when the record became one of the biggest selling imports since the '60s and the days when Beatles' albums were released in England first. When the album was released here last fall, Costello's commercial momentum grew even more, and Elvis was easily one of the best new artists of 1977.
Keeping up with the fast pace of his career and fueling the commercial momentum further is his just-released second album, This Year's Model (Columbia JC35331). On it, Elvis fulfills the promise of his debut, as he unleashes 11 new songs with the same distinctive and charismatic flair that made his debut so much fun.
Typical of the more upbeat, live sound found here is the whirlwinding opening song, "No Action." Elvis' back-up band, the Attractions, provide a wall-of-sound behind his punctual vocals. Part of this wall-of-sound is Steve Young's organ which producer Nick Lowe has emphasized more this time around. Young's presence is never unwelcome, as that organ leads Elvis vocals on "The Beat" and adds to the building process in "Pump It Up."
"This Year's Girl," is reminiscent of Dave Clark Five's "Catch Us If You Can." The most infectious cut on side one is "Little Triggers," an upbeat descendant of "Alison."
The Music Machine feeling of the mid-'60s, sparked by the lively organ, climaxes on "You Belong to Me," which has another catchy chorus.
Side two is not as varied, but the opening three songs are a fine display of the differences between This Year's Model and My Aim Is True, such as the roller-coasting organ, smoother vocals and production. Those first two songs are along the lines of last album's "No Dancing."
"Lipstick Vogue" is Elvis and the Attractions' most adventurous moment, with Elvis' angry, piercing vocals covering driving musical base, with occasional, but effective flair-ups. The album closes on its best note, with "Radio, Radio." Here, Elvis carves a distinctive niche somewhere in between the most festive moments of the recent Blondie album and the open, driving qualities of Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner." This is right behind last album's "Watching the Detectives" as one of Elvis' finest songs.
In the end, Elvis Costello's aim on This Year's Model is just as true as it was on his debut.
This Year's Model was preceded by a different English version (Radar RAD 3). "Radio, Radio" is not included, but the two songs in its place make the search in the import record section worthwhile. One is the mysterious "Chelsea." currently a hit single in England, and the other is the catchy "Night Rally." There's also a free 45 included in the import, but the live version of the Damned's "Neat, Neat, Neat" is canceled out by Elvis' first real miss, the country "Stranger in the House."
Coinciding with Elvis' second effort is the solo album debut of his producer, Nick Lowe, Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia JC35329). Besides helping Elvis, Nick Lowe has worked with Graham Parker, the Rumor, Clover, Dave Edmunds and various Stiff artists last year. These projects were all preceded by a career with Brinsley Schwarz. On his first solo album, Lowe may have established himself as the David Bowie chameleon-like figure of the New Wave, as the listener has to match the varied songs here with the many different guises of Nick Lowe on the cover.
On the first side, the infectious "Breaking Glass" and "Tonight" are surrounded by the rocking "So It Goes," "Heat of the City," and as a kicker, "Rollers Show." The last three have previously been released as singles in England, and their independency makes for abrupt transitions between songs, but they still stand up very well on their own.
The side of all new material is just as diversified, but there is some continuity. Bookended by two rockabilly entries, "No Reason" steals the basis of Costello's "Watching the Detectives," and "36 Inches High" is saturated with Ray Davies-like vocals. The crux of this side is the pure pop craziness of "Little Hitler" and "Nutted by Reality." Overall, Nick Lowe has built one of the most varied foundations imaginable, and any road he follows will be welcome.