Looking back to when Elvis Costello introduced his new sound to America, his appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live comes to mind.
It was not a pretty sight.
But Costello did not pretent to be pretty, like budding stars are supposed to be. The scrawny guitar player smashed his homely face against the inside of our TV sets and crooned an unfamiliar blend of English new wave and American rock music.
Suddenly, rock fans on both sides of the Atlantic were bubbling at the emergence of this new, not-so-pretty Elvis and his band, The Attractions.
Since then, Costello has become not only a successful recording artist, but somewhat of a father figure for new-wavers everywhere. While his simple, yet powerful rock'n'roll keeps listeners bouncing and begging for more, his soulful ballads are being recognized and picked up by more sedate performers including Linda Ronstadt, who is prettier than Costello. She used three of his songs on her last LP.
Costello's latest release, Get Happy!! contains 21 songs (that's right, count 'em) drawn from the various musical styles he has perfected through four albums. There is plenty of driving, danceable rock on this effort and several of those ballads that offer the feeling only he expresses publicly in song.
Costello, who writes every song he records, deals mostly with love in his music. Get Happy!! is no different, though much of his lyrics are anything but cheerful ("This must be the place. Second base in the human race. Down in the basement..." he sings).
Sassy, fast-paced tunes like "Man Called Uncle," "I Stand Accused," "The Imposter" and "Love For Tender" pound away in Costello's musical search for meaning in relationships. The perfect rhythms and staccato vocals dominating these cuts, come across clearly with the help of producer Nick Lowe, who recently produced The Pretenders' album.
But it is the slower tunes on this album that reflect Costello's other talents; the opportunity in some way transforms his unusual nasal voice into a delicately emotional sound reminiscent of "Allison" from his second release. "Secondary Modern" and "Riot Act" flow along on just voice and easy beats as he shows us that new wave is more than pogo and punk.
"Motel Matches" and "Temptation" are cleanly presented and follow a similar ballad-pattern without repetition.
"Opportunity" stands out among the slower cuts. A flawless vocal performance and light-hearted organ, both vital to Costello's music, provide an airy background.
"I Can't Stand Up" and "Human Touch" reflect an influence of fifties-rock.
It has been said that Elvis Costello gives new wave legitimacy by replacing anger with wit and musical know-how. It is true that his music, including Get Happy!! has remained fresh through a barrage of new bands and ideas.
Incidentally, there are 10 other songs on this album worth considering and all 21 are available in some local stores for less than $5. Buy it and get happy.!!