Elvis Costello. He's received a lot of press in the last couple of years, but if you are coming upon him cold, you're likely to get a strange first impression. The guy looks like Bruce Springsteen during a bad period, and he sings like Bob Dylan would have had he not been born Jewish. His music is an odd synthesis of '50s rock and roll and '70s punk. But Costello is not punk. His music, instead, falls into the admittedly ill-defined area of "New Wave," which seems to lie somewhere between punk and everything else.
Despite the punky cover, Costello's third album, Armed Forces, is a nice package which belies the sophistication of Costello's material. His lyrics are somewhat obscure, both verbally and intellectually, but once you get used to his delivery, you can pick out some of Costello's weird wit, especially on songs like "Senior Service," and "Chemistry Class." Costello is an off-the-wall satirist, but the fact that he utilizes some intelligence in writing his songs puts him ahead of most of the New Wavers.
The longest song is only 3:33, which gives the album almost unlimited single potential, but I don't think that that was Costello's reason for the length of the tunes. The short format seems to be what he works best in, and you get 12 good cuts as opposed to the usual eight or nine. There is also a 45-sized live disc included, which has "Accidents Will Happen," "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives" from his earlier records.
The quality of the recording is not first rate, but it captures the drive and force that is New Wave's main claim to fame. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" is sort of a New Wave "Blowin' in the Wind;" it exemplifies that kind of energy.
Elvis Costello is one of those people that has to be seen live to really be appreciated. He manages, however, to convey much of his vitality and sardonic humor on Armed Forces. The record has the best of both New Wave and mainstream music .