I didn't buy many albums this summer — not because there weren't any albums I wanted to buy, but because the only record store in my home town selling anything other than top twenty records never had prices lower than eight dollars.
I did however, purchase the latest release from my favorite recording artists, Elvis Costello and the Attractions. There are two ways to look at the new album, entitled Punch the Clock. Compared to most of the other albums released this year, it is one of the best. Compared to the rest of Costello's work, I feel that this album, though rather engaging, is not one of his major efforts. His best albums (This Year's Model, Get Happy!!, Imperial Bedroom) are more than collections of songs; they come together to form an important emotional statement. Punch the Clock is only a collection of songs, however excellent those songs may be.
The album does have many moments. As with all his other releases, Elvis starts off with an uptempo number. This time it's "Let Them All Talk" and the highlight is undoubtedly the crisp horn section. And then we're off to Elvis' bid for his first U.S. hit single, "Every Day I Write The Book," which I seem to enjoy more each time I hear it.
In "The Element Within Her" Elvis uses a "La La La" refrain to produce not a happy mood, but a bittersweet one. Not many other recording artists could do that. "The Invisible Man," like Armed Forces' "Oliver's Army" hides an extremely grim lyric in an irresistibly bouncy melody. People may find themselves merrily tapping their toes while Elvis is singing "Never mind there's a good film showing tonight / Where they hang everybody who can read and write / Oh that could never happen here but then again it might."
The best moments of the album are two strikingly different songs about the Falkland Islands conflict. The lovely "Shipbuilding" features Elvis sadly lamenting: "With all the will in the world / Diving for dear life / When we could be diving for pearls." On "Pills and Soap," however, Elvis is once again an angry young man: "What would you say? / What would you do? / Children and animals two by two / Give me the needle / Give me the rope / We're going to melt them down for pills and soap."
These are the highlights of a very good album, which is exactly what you'll get if you buy Punch the Clock. You'll have to wait for other releases if you want something to match the power of This Year's Model, the subtle intricacies of Get Happy!!, or the elegance of Imperial Bedroom.