Since his first release of 1977 Elvis Costello has released nine albums containing over 130 songs. Over that time Costello's songwriting and image have changed and improved considerably. He is now more relaxed, less vitriolic, and his live shows reflect that fact. With his ninth, Punch The Clock, Costello finally appears to have reconciled this more relaxed attitude with the need to remain tough and honest while producing accessible popular music.
The sound of Punch The Clock is bright and more obviously lively thanks to the production of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The recent success of Madness and Dexy's Midnight Runners is due, in no small part, to the influence of this production duo. The same is possible here. The sound is clean, with the bass and horns getting a prominent place in the mix. The sound is also less dense than that of the previous Imperial Bedroom.
In spite of the more obvious nature of this lp, the songs nevertheless remain as challenging as those on Imperial Bedroom. Melodically they are fabulous, reflecting a spiritual if not actual tribute to Soul and Stax. Lyrically Costello continues, with this lp. to reign as the best traditional songwriter of the post-77 period. Every song tells a captivating story and even the catch "Everyday I Write The Book" takes an old theme and reworks it in an engaging and witty fashion. Costello stands almost alone in understanding the value of language and he successfully attacks that difficult process of using the few words of a 3 minute popular song to say something that rises above the mundane. And you can sing the chorus too!
Moreover, Punch The Clock contains two of the years best songs. Both are comments (with anger) on the state of society Shipbuilding deals with the dilemma of the poor and unemployed in choosing the economic benefits of war (the Falklands) while hiding from the death to follow and rejecting their antipathy toward violence. "Pills and Soap" takes a broader look at the strange hypocrisy's of Thatcher's Britain. Both are odd songs on the lp. "Shipbuilding" is somewhat less melancholy than the Robert Wyatt hit version (in the U.K.) but is equally as touching and features the plaintive trumpet of Chet Baker.
The rest of Punch The Clock is more obviously "punchy." (if you will). The TKO horns, the backing vocals of Afrodiziac and the mixing of Langer/Winstanley give the lp a bounce and warmth lacking on Imperial Bedroom. The songs talk about politics, sex, love and families encouraging action while always keeping a sense of humour close at hand. I only wish I could include a lyric sheet to show you that standouts such as "The Element Within Her," "The Greatest Thing," and "The World and His Wife" are as good as I say.
Elvis Costello's Punch The Clock. Classic popular music equaling the high standards of Imperial Bedroom but infinitely more accessible. Thirteen beautifully written played and produced songs that reassert Costello's per-eminence amid the dross that passes for popular music today. Get it.
"Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls