The man on the cover of This Year's Model looks like the same Elvis Costello who appeared so awkward on My Aim Is True and had been called the hero of geekiness by a Bay Area college newspaper.
There's a big difference this time. As the cover makes quite obvious, Costello is now pointing the camera at us. He's going to let someone else be the side show attraction for a little while.
The lyrics and music on This Year's Model perfectly capture that feeling of revenge in the same way that Aim achieved uncertainty and frustration. On his first album, Costello sang about what he wanted and couldn't have; here he's seen what he wanted and decided he really isn't too impressed with the whole thing.
That hardened, cynical maturity is seen just as clearly in the music as it is in the lyrics. Aim was often tense and spasmatic but this time around producer Nick Lowe comes up with a steady thump that never lets up.
With all this development, Costello has a far better album that with five more minutes of music that its predecessor, This Year's Model doesn't contain a single song that would be better off on the cutting room floor.
Nearly every cut is an upbeat rocker; many contain a slight touch of the reggae influence Costello and his band — the Attractions — showed on their last tour. Costello's band has also grown tighter and consistently stays at the level of intensity that Costello sets.
Costello immediately ends any possibility that he has released a son of Aim. Opening cut "No Action" flashes confidence and steadiness as Costello claims "Every time I phone you / I just want to put you down." Most of the material on side one derives its force from a thumping rhythm section and displays Costello's affection for the music of the sixties, particularly on the bright, perky "You Belong To Me," a direct throwback to the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time."
Side two is smoother and more melodic, deriving most of its feeling from Costello's lively rhythm guitar work. "Hand In Hand" opens with an uncharacteristic reverse tape effect which leads into Costello's secure stance: "Don't ask me to apologize / I won't ask you to forgive me / If I'm gonna go down / You're gonna come with me."
Like he did on his last album Costello saves his best for last. "Lipstick Vogue" is an eerie, dark bitter rejection that seems to sum up the feeling of the album, while the album's final tune "Radio, Radio" is more upbeat and bright, but no less bitter as Costello shows his disappointment with the music business ("You either put up or get cut up / they don't want to hear about it / it's only inches on the reel to reel.")
One drawback is the failure of this album to give the buyer a printout of Costello's lyrics which contain more insightful emotion than most present day rockers.
Costello's singing, however, is usually pretty decipherable and when it isn't, the music is a perfect clue to what Costello is feeling. He is a master of expression and This Year's Model proves that My Aim Is True was no fluke; we haven't seen the last of Elvis Costello.