By 1979 Elvis Costello and the Attractions had proven themselves to be one of the best and brightest acts to come out of the English music scene. Elvis Costello had shown over the course of three very different and distinct albums that he was nothing short of a songwriting genius.
After the pop success of Armed Forces it seemed that everyone, including his label, was expecting a repeat with a similar sound and style. Elvis wasn't about to be put in a box and it all came to head in April of 1979 when, during a drunken argument in a bar, Costello uttered a racial slur that gained him a fair amount of backlash and suspicion. Costello has apologized on more than one occasion and has proven over the years that he's anything but a racist. Still, the damage was done and Elvis fought his way out of it through his music.
Get Happy!!, released in 1980, is one of his most ambitious and exciting efforts. It's a mile-a-minute thrill ride through Motown and RnB stylings that no one could have seen coming.
Elvis and the band went even further by cramming a stunning 20 songs on this record, clocking in at only 48 minutes. Most artists are lucky to produce a great album with half that many and yet Costello doesn't waste a minute here. Some tracks are better than others but I wouldn't consider any of them to be filler.
"Love for Tender" opens the record with some upbeat organ and a fast-paced beat that immediately lets you know that Elvis is exploring the world of funk, RnB, Motown, and soul. "Opportunity" rides a classic Motown beat and gives every member of the group a chance to really shine.
In fact, while The Attractions are in fine form it's really bassist Bruce Thomas who dominates here. His funky basslines and sense of urgency keep every song flowing smoothly while unconsciously causing you to tap your foot. Pete Thomas is perfect on drums as always and Steve Nieve's keyboard work is nothing short of stellar.
The quick-paced vibe of songs like "High Fidelity" and "Human Touch" are perfect examples of the sound Costello was going for, while the slower numbers like "New Amsterdam" and "Secondary Modern" hit just as hard but in a different sort of way.
Even a cover of "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" went on to become a hit, proof that Elvis could take someone else's song and make it his own.
Lyrically the album is great, but get used to me saying that because Elvis is always in fine lyrical form. The man can write, tell a story, and play with words like a walking dictionary. Lines like, "When I said that I was lying I might have been lying" and "Forever doesn't mean forever anymore / I said forever, now it doesn't look like I'm gonna be around much anymore" are the kind of brilliant wordplay that he does so well.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that every song here is great; as soon as one ends another immediately begins and it hardly gives you time to even think about the song you just heard.
However, a special nod goes to my personal favorite on here, "Temptation." This entire song beautifully sums up the album in terms of lyrics and music. Bruce's bassline is incredible, Thomas' drums hit you right from the beginning and the subtle keyboards of Steve Nieve leave a haunting effect in the background. It's truly one of Costello's best songs and the soul-sound of it is so infectious that you'll be humming it for hours. On a record full of stellar tunes this one really drives the whole thing home.
"Riot Act," "King Horse," "B Movie," and "5ive Gears in Reverse" are a few other favorites but the whole album is worth hearing. It's a bit overwhelming at first but after a few listens the songs begin to sink in and it all comes together.
When all is said and done Get Happy!! is an experience unlike any other in EC's catalogue. It rushes by at a lightning pace and yet loses none of the charm and sophistication of his previous offerings. With 20 songs there's no shortage of great material here and Costello's foray into the world of Motown and soul is nothing short of magnificent. Even the title itself is a reference to the gospel music that obviously plays a large part on this release. It's perfect from beginning to end and you're missing out if you don't own this. Buy it and get happy.