Boston Phoenix, February 18, 1986

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Get Happy!!

Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Mark Moses

★★★★

Elvis Costello wanted to make a soul record, but as you might expect from a Ray Charles fan who had recently gotten in trouble for taking the Genius's name in vain just to piss off Bonnie Bramlett, it ended up more complicated than that, streaked with remorse and atonement, incapable of soul's irrepressible good times or its gleaming elegance. With Memphis locomotions keyed up a little too light, and crazed organ fills that race ahead of the singing, this jittery rampage contains some of Elvis Costello's most heated singing and most compact songs, and the tense rhythms spur the Attractions' most coiled playing. His notorious verbal playfulness proves to be a bastard descendant of C & W's oxymorons and R & B's pervasive catchphrases, an approach that both Lefty Frizzell and Smokey Robinson would understand. The album mingles a song about an underage tryst ("Man Called Uncle") with a song about mutual cheating ("High Fidelity"); and it mulls over a relationship reduced to superficiality ("Possession") even as it admits that sometimes a picture can be more satisfying than the subject itself ("Black and White World"). Get Happy!! is the record on which Costello declared that "Clowntime Is Over," only to proclaim, in "B Movie." that "I can't stand it when I throw punch lines you can't feel." But in a way clowntime was over, and Costello's fast mouth and fast feet knew it. Even when he sped up Sam & Dave's once languorous lament "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" into an amphetamine rocker, the song's pathos still ensnared him. His dead-end compassion is captured best in "King Horse." Stuck "between tenderness and brute force," he utters one of the most heartbreaking lines ever written about rock and roll: "You see I knew that song so long before we met / That it means much more than it might." Coming from a man as drenched in rock history as Costello, it sure does.

(Get Happy!! is available on Columbia's Nice Price line.)

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Boston Phoenix, February 18, 1986


Mark Moses reviews Columbia's Nice Price reissue of Get Happy!!.

Images

1986-02-18 Boston Phoenix page 31 clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1986-02-18 Boston Phoenix page 31.jpg
Page scan.


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