Armed Forces, originally dubbed Emotional Fascism by Elvis before record company pressure forced a switch, may not at first strike the listener with the impact of Costello's first two impressive efforts. There is no one outstanding cut which defines this album, such as "Alison" or "Red Shoes" on My Aim Is True or "Radio, Radio" from This Year's Model, although "Party Girl" and Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" come close. Nevertheless, this is a strong collection of songs written around the theme of sexual politics.
Though still sometimes psychotically paranoid and bitterly cynical, Elvis has been somewhat mellowed by his recent success. No longer does he fire all his taunts at outside sources; Costello has become more introspective and often turns his anger back at himself. There is compassion, also, and, as always, almost painful vulnerability. In the very first cut, "Accidents Will Happen," Elvis sings, "You used to be a victim / Now you're not the only one." Even on his more militant tunes, "Goon Squad," "Senior Service" and "Oliver's Army," he not only recognizes the plight of others, he admits he's there with everybody else, just as confused and scared.
On repeated listenings, the opaque Nick Lowe production begins to make stunning sense, as voices and instruments are masterfully interwoven, vying for your attention. With Elvis' unique song stylings and the increasing contributions of the marvelous Attractions, especially Steve Naive's innovative keyboards, Armed Forces is the best lp of this so-far very young year, and it sets a standard that will be tough to top.