Burlington Free Press, April 22, 1979

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Armed Forces

Elvis Costello

Carlo Wolff

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.

Fool Around

Rachel Sweet

Carlo Wolff

Rachel's from Akron, Ohio. She's got a strong, nasal voice; she's got Svengali in the form of writer-producer Liam Sternberg, and she records for Stiff, the eccentric British label that helped popularize Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.

She does a great version of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter soul hit, "B-A-B-Y," covers Costello's country tune, "Stranger in the House" and makes fun of her little girl image, while supporting it through nine other songs.

Sternberg's "Girl With a Synthesizer" is the strangest and most compelling, asking the listener to bring this girl with the big, not-quite-womanly voice into his or her home. Not a bad idea.

Rachel's got a powerful voice and a peculiar clipped phrasing that helps this album stand out. Sternberg's "Who Does Lisa Like?" a hookless oddity with the best ornamentation, is the standout: Rachel asks the question over and over again, posing the riddle of being a teenager against disturbing social profundities.

Rachel can do many things. She's not restricted by format. And although she embodies many contradictions and could be viewed and heard as a complete novelty, her debut album shows insight and promise.

Besides, it's on nifty white vinyl and the packaging is outstanding. The fact that she tackles everything from soul ("Stay Awhile") to country ("Wildwood Saloon") makes hcr debut more than gimmickry. Fool Around with Rachel Sweet. She'll be around for a while.


Burlington Free Press, April 22, 1979

Carlo Wolff reviews Armed Forces and Rachel Sweet's Fool Around.


1979-04-22 Burlington Free Press page 4D.jpg
Page scan.


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