In his eighth album, Elvis Costello has again shown the versatility which has made him one of the few well-rounded rock 'n' roll artists. Costello has traveled the musical spectrum from new wave (My Aim is True), to country (Almost Blue) to rock 'n' roll (Imperial Bedroom), And with Punch the Clock Costello has settled down into an easy listening mode which will please many people who are unfamiliar with his work. The hitch here is that those who have come to expect a great deal from Costello may be disappointed; however, Punch the Clock is a well-produced and well-written album, and as with all Elvis Costello albums, it gets better at every listen.
In Punch the Clock Costello deals with the theme of disenchantment with life. Over and over in this album Costello is plagued with everyday problems in relationships. Nowhere is the theme more evident than in "Shipbuilding":
"Is it worth it
A new wintercoat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy's birthday.
Here Costello considers the humdrum existence and finds it lacking. Disenchantment with relationships crops up again in "Charm School":
"You and I as lovers
We're nothing but a farce
Trying to make a silk purse
Out of a sow's arse.
The theme of disillusionment with life is overriding in Punch the Clock, but the real story of the album is in the well-crafted songs. Costello has written perhaps some of his most easy-listening songs, which is not to say his best songs. The highlight of the album is the FM-oriented song, "Everyday I Write the Book." "Let Them Talk," "The Finest Thing," "Element Within Her." "Shipbuilding," "Love Went Mad," "T.K.O.," "Mouth Almighty" are all songs of some merit and all contribute to the overall easy-listening format of the album.
Although not his best work, Punch the Clock is still an album of considerable force. Costello has written an album distinguished by an easy listening tone with a rough theme of disenchantment. Give it a listen.