Twenty. count 'em, twenty tunes and the longest is under three minutes, making Get Happy another step in Elvis Costello's plan to do the unexpected, this time with a soul twist.
Even after a dozen listenings, the songs here remain linked to each other. It's not a case of repetition but one of unity, a well-mixed blend one rarely finds on a modern album.
This isn't slick, at least in the modern sense, as this record echoes the past while facing the future. Costello's influences are wider than Dylanistic lyrics of contempt and Blonde On Blonde pop textures. On Get Happy, he also proves himself to he an inheritor of sounds that once came from the recording studios of Stax-Volt, Motown and even Sly Stone. Soul music is given new life with a heavy dance beat, pumping bass lines, roller rink organs and echo chamber vocals.
With so many songs fitting together like the perfect puzzle, it becomes difficult to remove a piece without feeling as though things are incomplete.
But there are stand-outs. They begin with the first track, a cover of the Sam and Dave 60s chestnut, "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down."
The flood of songs continues and includes "5ive Gears in Reverse" and "Beaten to the Punch," where Costello spits out the refrain with his near-trademark of vengeance. Then there's the change-of-pace bluesy ballad, "Motel Matches," with a soft piano introduction and aching vocals.
Through all of these songs Costello and his band, the Attraction, weave a tapestry of music that digs, reaches, grabs, soars and then rockets away as accompanying lyrics turn things inside out and back again.
And this is only side one.
Side two has less of a soul edge as more of pop feel pervades but the quality of songs, replete with hooks (and occasional claws) is maintained. The keyboards swirl and flourish about the gorgeous melodies of "Opportunity," "King Horse," and "Man Called Uncle." So many songs are so good there's a new favorite with each listening.
Songs that compel one to move and sing along, coupled with lyrics of conflict between people, situations and institutions are what makes the title so ironically apropos. Elvis Costello has brought the thoughts of his first three records together into a twenty-song album of great impact. It's pop music for the political warfare of life as we dance toward the apocalypse.