Elvis Costello is a missile among mortars.
“Armed Forces,” his latest triumph, is confidence and chutzpah rising out of the plastic stare constipating the recording industry. The lanky curious-looking bespectacled Costello has clearly had enough of his former image.
The days of cuteness and cuffed dungarees are gone. The Briton is fed up.
Costello is not punk or new wave. He is a powerful rocker-songwriter with a Fender guitar, crisp three-piece band (the Attractions) and the production genius of Nick Lowe.
The AM schtick factories that push the likes of Hot Chocolate and the Bee Gees can ill-afford to ignore Costello for long, even though the man in the corduroy jacket himself could care less.
Moving to the front lines is the Sergeant Pepper of the 80s.
Consider the cuts on the album.
“Goon Squad,” a rock anthem for proletarians.
“Busy Bodies,” an indictment of the synthetic love made to fit human needs.
Costello makes a cynical observation:
So you think that you have seen her.
When you’re lying in between her…
But you don’t care busy bodies getting’ nowhere.
“Moods for Moderns,” an expose of beautiful people. Listen to this number the next time you flip through Cosmopolitan magazine.
“Chemistry Class,” a tender tune about the physical properties of human emotion.
“Two Little Hitlers,” a political study of a menage-a-trois.
You say you’ll never know him
He’s an unnatural man
He doesn’t want your pleasure
He wants what no one can
He wants to know the names of
All those he’s better than.
Two little Hitlers will fight it out until
One little Hitler does the other one’s will
"What’s so Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding,” a blitzkrieg of keyboards, guitars and drums herald Costello as he asks "Where is the harmony, Sweet harmony”
This riff puts Bruce Springsteen to shame.
"Accidents Will Happen,” a telling assessment of the frailty in human relations and the insensitivity that can result when a love goes awry.
Accidents will happen
We’re only hit and run
You used to be the victim
Now you’re not the only one
Accidents will happen
We’re only hit and run...
I don’t want to hear it cos
I know what I’ve done
"Senior Service,” an angry piece blaming "the death that’s worse than fate”
"Oliver’s Army” a satirical snipe at soldiers-for-hire.
“Big Boys,” a slicing narrative of misplaced masculinity.
“Green Shirt,” an eerie Vincent Price-like parable about a temptress and her blouse.
“Party Girl,” an electric yet satin-smooth love song, in the tradition of Costello’s earlier “Alison,” a poignant piece without being drippy.
Also included in the record is an extended-play disc with live versions of “Alison” and “Accidents Will Happen.”