Just when you think that rock and roll music is in the throes of a terrible dry spell, some new face comes along to show you that rock is, indeed, here to stay. I'm talking about a Bruce Springsteen or a band like the Beatles. It's impossible to say if Elvis Costello will ever reach the mega-stardom of whoever your favorite might be, but one thing is for sure: after three albums, he has knocked the rock world with a menacing jolt.
His debut album in 1977 featured "Alison," which has been recorded by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, and my personal favorite, "Watching The Detectives." Last year's effort was called This Year's Model, and included a stinging attack at what it takes to be a hit in music circles, "Radio, Radio." Both albums were brutally frank visions of the world from an ex-computer analyst from England.
The new year brings us Elvis Costello album number three. Armed Forces (Columbia Records) proves Elvis to be exactly what a lot of people already thought: an immensely talented singer-guitarist-writer. Musically, his band, the Attractions (identified on the album only as Steve, Bruce, and Pete) reminds me at times of 60s groups like Question Mark and the Mysterians, heavy on the organ. The topics up for discussion, however, are right up to date.
As you might suspect from the title, Armed Forces relies heavily on history and warfare to bring up troubling questions of today. The titles point out the thematic involvement of the armed forces: "Senior Service," "Oliver's Army," "Green Shirt," "Goon Squad," "Two Little Hiders," and "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" all use army-like difficulties to show the conflicts within each of us.
My favorite pieces would have to be "Accidents Will Happen," with the catchiest Costello hook yet, and "Moods for Moderns," both of which could and should earn some radio airplay. Don't bet on it, though, since Elvis has already lampooned the radio industry, and is therefore in the radio doghouse.
Also included with the album is a special EP, Live At Hollywood High. The three songs on it are among his very best concert pieces: "Alison," "Watching The Detectives," and the new tune "Accidents Will Happen." It's just another reason that Armed Forces is the finest moment of Costello's so-far young career. He has shown steady improvement right from the start.