To dispose of the obvious: This is the best record of 1979 so far, and bets are that it will hold to that position.
Armed Forces consolidates Costello's brilliance. Its title and theme are profoundly pacifistic, and the whole album is one man's protest against stifling form, against militarism.
To Costello, everyone's a Nazi ("Goon Squad" and that brilliant terror ditty, "Two Little Hitlers") and the only way to keep the world sane is to pierce the veil of repression.
Unlike his first two albums, Armed Forces is deceptively soft: It's practically guitarless, with one exception - "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," a plea written by producer Nick Lowe that's guitar dominated and features Elvis singing in a Springsteenian baritone. The song is the only romantic piece on the album, which, as a whole, is decidedly and innovatively post-romantic.
Elvis Costello doesn't trust anyone. But on his earlier albums, his mistrust went outward, balancing a hatred mainly of women with a skepticism toward himself. The balance gave (and still gives) him a unique perspective, making him the first rock poet of the personal politics of the 70's and 80's.
On this, his third album, Costello runs the gamut, lashing at his traditional enemy, the shallow woman ("Party Girl"), the crippling forms of bureaucracy ("Busy Bodies"), false social interaction ("Moods for Moderns"), etc.
His voice is softer than before, his music more orchestral, with lush production by Lowe. It's hard-edged music, though.
To give it perspective, try to get a hold of a copy of this album with the Live at Hollywood EP in it, where Elvis sings a soft piano-version of "Accidents Will Happen," to prove he's got heart as well as soul.
His dialect may be tough to penetrate, but what Elvis Costello says speaks to us all.