Because the entire music industry has a definite dependency on reviewers' supposedly-qualified opinions and recommendations, it is distinctly vulnerable to manipulation. Very often even the most respected of critics are misleading in their recommendations. Often reviewers resort to using strings of superlatives in order to achieve an effect — precious and dangerous words like "superb," "brilliant," "outstanding" and "unique" become common currency with the sad result that it's difficult to warn of the emergence of a really special and valuable talent. This being so, your humble Journal reviewer urges anybody who has detected any credibility in his opinions since this haphazard column began so many moons ago to go and get his/her hands on an Elvis Costello album. Your scribe sincerely pledges his shoddy reputation that you are likely to find yourself involved in a whole new and exciting experience.
Built like the character who gets sand kicked into his face in the Bullworker ad, and prone to wearing a ridiculous pair of glasses that make him look like the neglected offspring of an unsuccessful, nutty professor, Costello isn't the most likely candidate to go playing pussyfoot with stardom. Yet since he emerged with Stiff Music Ltd., two years ago and soon after was wooed over by one of the bigger recording labels, he has progressed to be the unchallenged King of the Anti-Heroes.
After good health, friends arc the greatest gift one can hope for. This Armed Forces came our way courtesy of a genuine pal, Chris, who never the years has come to understand and indeed respect our music tastes and fancies. The consequences of this generosity have been extremely unusual — for the past three weeks there's been no Rhymes and Reasons work and, the scores of albums in our collection have remained redundant as every second of turntable time has been devoted to exploring the work of this fellow, Costello.
Due to imperfect production, it's taken us quite a while to come to grips with the lyrics. Yet during that time we've been forced into admiring the actual music involved and acquired a most healthy respect for the freshness of the Attractions approach. After hours upon hours of playing the album, we eventually deciphered the words but then came the formidable task of understanding them.
Whether he's telling of the male/female condition, discussing Mercenaries of juxtaposing, Costello is difficult to grasp. Many of his works on Armed Forces remind one of Cryptic Crosswords, with many different solutions. But while all the effort to comprehend him is going on, the listener is aware that he's being puzzled by the most exciting talent to come forth in recent years. At times on Armed Forces, particularly during "Big Boys" and "Party Girl," Costello reminds one of Bowie at his prime, yet if one attempts to pin him down, he's moved off in a different and new direction.
On occasions too his lyrics seem to dodder along the path between genius and madness and veer in to either side every so often.
Armed Forces comes complete with a free single and a number of Costello postcards while Dali himself would probably have shown a marked interest in the album sleeve.
Attempting to dissect the man's talents would be a fruitless exercise. And while we're not fully clear of the mind-boggling Costello syndrome, we respectfully ask readers to treat this album as the most stimulating to emerge during 1979.