Armed Forces is the third album from that miniscule peddler of tortured emotion, Elvis Costello. In many ways an important album, in view of the success of our bespectacled hero's first two discs. Will he take the downhill path, well trodden by so many other budding "stars," on attaining that elusive aura of mass appeal? Will Guardian give this the customary "Third album" slagging off?
Right at the edge of side 1 you'll find "Accidents Will Happen," a song concerning the victims of throw-away love affairs, only this time it's the Elv whose on the giving end, "Accidents will happen / . . . / I don't want to hear it / 'cause I know what I've done."
Then comes the reason for the title. Two anti-militarist songs, "Senior Service" anti-sailor; and the sublime "Oliver's Army," bitingly criticising of that glorious "peace-loving," British, military attitude. Side 2 also has a song in similar vein, "Goon Squad," in which a new recruit writes home regretting having joined up, but eventually is corrupted by the military and actually enjoys being there.
Back on side 1 "Big Boys" is descriptive of the exploits of the proverbial seven-stone weakling. It accurately tells of the need he has to be a Charles Atlas. Most understanding, and I should know, not being far from the seven-stone weakling myself. Side 1 finishes with the affected, romantic pose of "Party Girls," easily the worst song on the album.
Only "Chemistry Class" and "Two Little Hitlers" sink low on side 2, all the others are fine tracks. Particularly outstanding is "Busy Bodies," dealing with a relationship where appearances have become more important than feelings, "You want to kiss her / But she's busy with her make-up," and where sex takes the place of love, "You think that you've seen her / when you're lying in between her." Also fine is the anti-Racialist/bigot "Sunday's Best" and, of course, "Goon Squad."
Many artists would gladly record the worst songs on this album, and nobody but Costello can produce songs like "Goon Squad," "Busy Bodies" and most brilliantly of all, "Green Shirt" (about the girl in your dreams that is beautifully untouchable and so "tortures" you).
All in all, the king's lyrics are becoming more concise and exacting and his style more diverse. He has to fall sometime, but he certainly isn't going to do so when he can maintain the depth of expression evident here. The album has its faults but these are swamped in a sea of good material. Buy it.