Boston Globe, March 13, 1980

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Get Happy!

Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Sean McAdam

In spite of its title, Get Happy! is a depressing listening experience because while Elvis Costello's fourth album promises much, it delivers little. A collection of 20 songs clustered on a single LP, it could have been an eclectic effort. Instead, it is quite derivative. This is not so much an indictment of Costello's songwriting as it is Nick Lowe's production. Lowe's glossy touches are an apparent concession to the mass acceptance of power pop, a movement Lowe himself greatly influenced. But Lowe tries to have it both ways — a bright sound with a murky mix — and fails. As a result, Get Happy! is formulaic and sterile. In the past, Lowe has deftly incorporated Steve Naive's keyboards, allowing them to lurk ominously below the surface. Here, they are mixed way up front at the expense of all other instruments. Costello's guitar work, once a biting weapon in his arsenal, is almost nonexistent. Occasionally Naive's playing escapes Lowe's heavy-handedness, but soon the album begins to sound like mood music for a three-ring circus. The lumbering bass and the uniformity of the percussion only add to monotony. To compound the problem, Lowe does not stop at the instrumentation. Costello's voice sounds alternately tinny or lost amongst the reverb and echo. Costello himself is not entirely blameless. To be sure, like its predecessors, Get Happy! is chock full of his acerbic wit and ironic puns. "I'd like to be his funeral director" sings Costello of a rival in "Opportunity," a reminder that he can still package his contempt in a subtle manner. Likewise, it's obvious from the outset that "High Fidelity" (perhaps the album's best cut) is going to be more about romantic devotion than audio systems. But the intensity that was so evident on the other albums is missing or at the very least negated by the surroundings. The faster numbers fizzle out before they get a chance to develop, as the average time per song is only two minutes. The ballads, too, are no match for, say, "Alison" or "Party Girl" in terms of emotive power.

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The Boston Globe, March 13, 1980


Sean McAdam reviews Get Happy!!.

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1980-03-13 Boston Globe, Calendar page 08.jpg
Page scan.

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