Elvis Costello's latest release Get Happy, is a bit of a letdown after his previous album, Armed Forces. It is a good album, worth buying, but it has its poorer moments. The album contains an amazing 20 songs on one disc, with a majority of the songs about 2 minutes long. Because of the staggering number of songs, no one cut really stands out; the album has no real identity. Furthermore, the recording quality is generally poor.
Costello and producer Nick Lowe's basic goal for this album was to make it different from the current types being released, with songs of 10 minutes or more. This was the fatal flaw of the album. Because of the amount of songs needed to obtain this rare quantity of 20 on a single album, Costello and Lowe had to record almost every song Costello has recently written. Consequently, some very poor numbers were included. "Human Touch" is a polka. Costello obviously could not spend very long on any single song, thus lyrics suffered immensely, often becoming meaningless and incoherent. "Clowntime is Over" is ridiculous.
Just as the format affected Costello's performance, it also partially hurt his backup band, the Attractions. The Attractions lacked the tightness and discipline that earned them the title of the best backup band in the music industry. Bassist Bruce Thomas put forth the best effort of the trio, showing he deserved to be considered one of the three best bass guitarists in the world, along with John Paul Jones and John Entwhistle. Keyboardist Steve Naive, who Costello stole from a classical conservatory in England, laid down some excellent cuts, such as "King Horse," "High Fidelity," and "Riot Act."
While there were some poor songs on this album, there were also some very good ones. "Love for Tender," "King Horse," "Man Called Uncle," and "High Fidelity" all show Costello still has the capacity for producing good, solid rock. "Motel Matches" sounds more like a Charlie Rich Gold Record than a Costello number. "Riot Act" is probably the best cut off the album, a poignant ballad, not because of its lyrics, which are meaningless, but because of Elvis' vocal phrasing and expression, and the Attractions' above-average performance. "New Amsterdam," which is the next-to-last song on the album, makes the whole adventure worthwhile.
Had Costello limited Get Happy to its best ten or twelve tracks, it would have been an outstanding work, but on this album, Costello tried to make a very unique and individual statement, as the Beatles did with Sergeant Pepper. He obviously was unsuccessful. It is not yet the time for Costello to make such a statement. That the album cover looks as if it was designed by a 4 year old or Elvis himself, and that the album was recorded in Holland (where?) don't help.