The early eighties brought out the best and worst of some music veterans — the latter particularly when they surrendered their craft to "production value." Elvis was hardly immune; having enjoyed some recent records by the likes of Madness and Dexy's Midnight Runners, he enlisted contemporary hitmakers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley to give his latest batch of tunes a chartbound sheen. The results, as heard on Punch The Clock, were mixed.
On the plus side, "Everyday I Write The Book" was a huge hit worldwide, complete with a wacky video depicting Charles and Diana as bored newlyweds. However, most of the rest of the album favored a mix that brought the incessant female backing vocals and horn section to the forefront, making it hard to hear those catchy melodies. The effect is akin to having too much ketchup on your cheeseburger.
And those melodies do exist; you just have to listen really closely. "Shipbuilding" (with a gorgeous but brief and processed Chet Baker trumpet solo) and "Pills And Soap" are two of his more inspired creations, with political overtones that unfortunately still resonate today.
"Charm School" is one example of a song that benefits from the layers, to the point where you don't even mind the steal from "Theme From Summer Of '42." Similarly, "The Element Within Her" features excellent dynamics in between the repeated "la la la" choruses. "Mouth Almighty" and "King Of Thieves" are catchy, but "The Greatest Thing" goes too fast and involves too many key changes to handle the words.
Punch The Clock is a pop album, but some fans were hoping for something more aggressive. Somehow the album title suggested he was merely going through the motions.
The Rykodisc reissue includes two of the better B-sides of the period ("The Flirting Kind" and "Heathen Town," which Elvis considered adding to the album after its initial release). Live versions of "Everyday I Write The Book" and "The World And His Wife" give insight into the less labored origins of those tracks.
The Rhino reissue went even further, replacing those live tracks with studio alternates, and adding a whole pile of acoustic demos that more than suggest he should have stuck with his initial instincts instead of eyeing the charts.