Unlike the many rock artists who tend to be creatively restricted by the framework of their own patented sound, Elvis Costello, in his latest release, Armed Forces, ignores all musical precedent set by his previous album, This Year's Model.
The new material is suffused with a driving, at times relentless, backbeat. Guitar melody lines, so common in Model, are practically non-existent; vocal effects and a subtle synthesizer overlay appear instead. The Attractions, Costello's back-up group, move to the forefront of this album. Their precision delivery exudes a subtle, sustained intensity, most prominently in "Green Shirt" and "Two Little Hitlers." Most of the music completely avoids the melodic mediocrity of modern-day mush.
The two principle lyrical themes of earlier Costello works, unrequited love and social criticism, blend together to create what the liner notes refer to as "emotional fascism." Social dilemmas often parallel personal ones. "Goon Squad" examines the socio-sexual shortcomings of army life while "Busy Bodies" questions whether true love can exist in today's mechanized society. "Green Shirt," meanwhile, expresses conflicting feelings of hatred and desire for modern two-dimensional sex queens. Throughout, the lyrics exhibit a thematic originality uncommon in rock and roll.
The development of rock thrives on the efforts of artists such as Costello to keep it active and changing. As it stands, Armed Forces is an innovative piece which explores possible new directions for modern music.