Creem, April 1979

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Armed Forces

Elvis Costello

J.M. Bridgewater

Oh, I just don't know where to begin...

...So how's about a freeze frame click-click-clicking of El Fuss on all fours in his backyard nightshade garden extirpating thwarted concupiscence by the bushelful... Or him breast beating poor Bebe, every bruising lash sizzling with anger precipitated by evidence of the fuck-in-place jogging calisthenics practiced by mirror loving pseudo-sexual jocks of either (and all) gender(s) who see themselves rolling on the carpet with the handiest imitation of this year's model, revefingin the self-serving zipless salvational pragmatism of Erica Jong-type behavorial guidance (pity the poor immoral grunt)...Or perhaps a still photo of a ceramic vase displaying an existential bouquet of oopsy-daisies tottering on the edge of our neo-hero's mantelpiece, with a voice-over reading of Roethke's My shadow pinned against a sweating wall — sub-captioned Welcome To Paradise's Weeds And Wrecks. Well, now that I have begun...

Elvis Costello's supposed (apparent?) misogynous tendencies mean less to me than 78 rpm, have seemed too easy a reference, a tree top example of the personal heresy. I prefer to assume that in an attempt to define the anguish (artistic, of course) he awoke to daily, Elvis sought out an essay by Sartre and was enlightened to the fact that woe is man. And being a fiendishly clever fellow and a cunning linguist of the first order, El swivel-lipped a slight trick of the tongue and parachuted it into an arena where abias and genitalmen alike, who had, by one bite or the other, been jarred (and pickled) by rejection and manipulation, could vinegar dance soul justifying virulence. And contemplate between vindictive affirmations of the recurring pain and futility of being human his cryptic and analogous messages regarding the heel-clicking little bubbers who aspire to becorne Big Bubber, if only for wide sheet domination. Why, Coz respects goils and boils equally, and would no more abuse a candy little girl than I would poke a fire cracker up a cat's ass and light it (here kitty, kitty, kitty).

All of which is rutted more in last year's Farrah than this year's aim.

Armed Forces (and I was initially suspicious as to why not Armed Farces, a more likely title! thought, and a good companion to Ernie Hummingway's chronicle of an amputee ward, A Farewell To Arms) again finds 'Fuss buzzing at the window like a heat-maddened fly, his relentless camera lens snap shooting a wider and, me thinks, more penetrating angle. So, just like mommy used to do with the Band-Aids after you played butcher with yourself, let's take the most prominent cuts first.

"Accidents Will Happen": When you're mournfully watching the bubbles at the bottom of the bottle from a Texas bar stool, this translates as, "Shit will happen," but it's the same difference. Whether you hit the drake with your fender or it ran into you with its bill, it's still a dead duck, no longer responsible for its actions, or lack thereof. This is more than a hapless shrug, however; rather an assertive ambiguity, or is that ambivalence? Somebody wake up Freud and ask. Or maybe that guy in the beret could tell us. At any rate, the song pivots on, "It's the damage that we do and never know / It's the words we don't say that scare me so." Like, "Fuck, she was so quiet at supper tonight, I just know she's gonna tell me in the morning that she's packing — What did I do to piss her off?" Unhealthy self-manipulation best brought to a head on conclusion by letting her walk and then, after taping over the numbers on your license plates, following her to a nice, deserted intersection where you put your foot to the floor and commit a little of what El sings of, "hit and run." Gee, you'll be sorry as hell, and your reputation will be screwed up a little, too, so that any fish rising out of the smoke will demand a chaperone for the ride home. But, you won't be the only victim and you do have a catchy and appropriately remorseful fade-out chorus to sing along with as you view the crime from ever-lengthening distance ("I—I know what I've done"). Even if you don't want to hear about it.

"Oliver's Army": Hey! Wouldn't it be neat to get a job at the front fine? Well, just wait a couple of minutes and it'll be your front lawn. For you who can't wait, or are in need of some occupational therapy, Corporal Costello offers a subversively infectious melody and some dapper squadron hut-huttin' from the Attractions (who certainly are) that will have you marching in military dandiness, so proud of your shiny new rifle and hand grenades. The clincher line, "And I would rather be anywhere else than here today," only serves to infer the acute shortage of anywhere elses available today (and lets you in on how Napoleon felt at Moscow, and how I felt in Denton last Saturday night when that cop pulled me over for expired tags, me knowing what he was shortly to find out: that I was I drunk and hadn't had a current driver's license in over 17 months).

"Party Girl": Mr. Spleen waxes poignant? Well, throughout the album his focus is not as overtly harsh as previously And this is the kind of love song that makes sense; it isn't punitively wimpoid, not does it promise gloriously shared sunrises on the far side of eternity. The fella realizes the limitations of relationships ("I would give you anything... I can give you anything, but time"), his own confused motives ("I don't want to lock you up and say you're mine / I don't want to lose you, and say, 'Good-bye"), the fact that the object of his passion is neither unique nor a fresh-faced angel ("a party girl.. just like a million all over the world"). He even indulges in a fine of hopeless fantasy ("Maybe someday we can go hiding from the world"), but sings with an a priori conviction of loss, as though he already knows the desperation of accepting any disguise of love too well, and is well-versed in the purity of pure despair.. Which is from where the song, in performance, is tellingly authored.

"Two Little Hiders": "I face the music, I face the facts... Two Little Hitlers who'll fight it out until, one Little Hitler does the other one's will." Not as time consuming as Ten Little Indians, but acidly perceptive and funny. Emotional fascism set to a quirky beat. My favorite line has got to be, "I called selective dating / For some effective mating." But the most cogent lyric in regard to rock n' roll psychology is, "I need My head examined / I need my eyes excited." Or maybe that's world psychology.

The remainder of the menu here includes a chemistry class — if you're ready for the final solution; the horror of experiencing what it feels like to be flushed down the tubes a discourse on the multi-level effects of modern cybernetics that 1 spits in the face of intentions, regardless of sex, creed, or color; a foray into corporate Darwinism and sinister ambition; and a steel-belted radial retread of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding" that could have been truly hilarious, if Elvis had bothered to scowl the hokey recitation about "the children of the New Generation." But he didn't so fuck him.

Grinding transitional gears, I do miss the pump-it-up organ and hundred percent tithe of ferocity that defined This Year's Model tearing up my mental rug. But, what. with these provocatively armed forces building up to maim and mangle, that seems trivial. The question you might ask yourself, considering the consequences, is: Just whose fingerprints are on my imagination?

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Creem, April 1979

J.M. Bridgewater reviews Armed Forces.


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Page scans.

Photo by Bob Gruen.
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Cover and page scan.


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