Elvis Costello is ugly. His music, however, is beautiful.
Costello is, without a doubt, one of the oddest looking musicians in rock today. He has short, unkempt dark hair, black horn-rimmed glasses and is usually pictured wearing cuffed blue jeans and a button up shirt with a thin black tie and jacket.
Why he goes to all the trouble of looking like that is anyone's guess, but thank heaven he does go to the trouble of making good music.
His new album, Armed Forces, is an excellent collection of 12 perfectly crafted tunes containing enough catch melodies to please almost anyone.
It's amazing how Costello can turn out so many quality songs in the short span that he has. It was only about 16 months ago that he released his first album, My Aim Is True. Then, less than six months later, he came out with his second album, This Year's Model. Both albums were received very well critically, but not as well commercially.
Armed Forces however could, and probably will be, the big album to break Costello to the rest of the public, most of whom view him as some kind of oddity.
One selling advantage this album has, besides the music, is the omission of Costello's photograph on the cover. Instead, Armed Forces displays a strange, abstract, brightly colored painting on the cover.
It's hard to say if this album is better than the other two. Only repeated listenings will tell. Armed Forces is no more spectacular than either of the others but it's very safe to say that if you liked either of them it would be impossible for you not to enjoy Armed Forces.
Costello's band, the Attractions are on the cover this time (they also played on This Year's Model) but once again they, or the instruments they play, aren't identified. On the inside sleeve there is a color picture of Costello and the band, but it identifies them only as Steve, Elvis, Bruce and Pete.
Included with the album for a short time is the limited edition EP, Live At Hollywood High. The first side contains "Accident Will Happen" and "Alison." "Accident Will Happen" is also included on Armed Forces by the EP version is slower. "Alison" is also given a great treatment, even better than the version on My Aim Is True.
"Watching The Detectives" takes up side two, clocking in at 6:06, unusually long for a Costello song. A powerful song live, it doesn't disappoint you either.
Produced by Nick Lowe, Armed Forces is a fun album, easy to listen to and, of course, very enjoyable. My favorite songs are "Senior Service," "Oliver's Army," "Green Shirt" and "Goon Squad."
The best song on the album though (and the longest at 3:30) is "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Written by Nick Lowe, the tune really rocks as Costello's voice takes on a different quality to it.
Elvis Costello is making music like no one else today. In this era of heavy metal monotony and disco drone, it's a pleasure having him around.