Now armed with a band of his own, Elvis Costello hurdled the sophomore jinx with a set of songs inspired by a new life on the road, the Rolling Stones' Aftermath and a rhyming dictionary.
This Year's Model offers much of the same approach as My Aim Is True, but gets heat from the three guys who were arguably the best backing band on the planet. The two Thomases (Bruce on bass, Pete on drums) were not brothers, but were locked as tight as any rhythm section should be. Classically trained Steve Nieve, barely out of his teens, colors the stereo picture with manic organ swirls and occasional piano. And of course, they had those incredible songs to play with.
This album runs the gamut from punk energy ("No Action," the paradoxical "You Belong To Me" and the dizzying "Lipstick Vogue") to catchy pop ("This Year's Girl," "Little Triggers" and "Lip Service") with a few anthems in between ("Pump It Up," "Radio, Radio," "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea"). The urgency of the music matches the attack in the vocals, helped by the simple, highly competent production. Whether taken song by song or as a whole, the album is a satisfying listen. Elvis still performs these songs onstage today, and for good reason.
While his debut startled listeners, it's arguably this album that gets held up as his greatest success, and the one against which any of his other "rock" albums are matched.
In a disturbing trend, This Year's Model has also been reissued three times, none of which fill the CD to capacity. The 1993 Rykodisc version followed the UK sequence, with "Chelsea" and "Night Rally," followed by "Radio, Radio" (added to the US LP at the expense of those two) plus two B-sides and three demos.
The 2002 Rhino version followed the same sequence as the Ryko up through "Radio, Radio" on one disc, and added the extra Ryko tracks and seven other live tracks and demos on the other.
The 2008 Hip-O "Deluxe Edition" confusingly included the same contents of the Ryko version (along with a couple of Rhino tracks and a few others that had been bonus tracks on a different album altogether) on one disc, paired with disc containing a complete 1978 concert. As nice as the bonuses are for collectors, they're merely a footnote to those 11 (or 12) tracks.