The addition of a “limited edition” E.P. to Elvis Costello’s latest release might ensure a gold album for him but it’s icing on the cake for me. And while I didn’t care for his last album, Armed Forces reaffirmed by my penchant for the ‘other Elvis’.
Produced by Nick Lowe, this enjoyable record, while not technically superb, is musically superior. This is what I’ve missed from the last few records I’ve reviewed – enjoyment.
True there are enough lifts from the rock past to cause some consternation but they are more homage than theft. "Oliver’s Army” does sound like a mini-Phil Spector production for the Ronnettes but that could be the result of Nick Lowe’s collaboration with Dave Edmunds.
Other than that and a guitar lick on “Two Little Hitlers” that apes Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” the music is sheer Costello. After all, in how many other people can you forgive the use of a Farfisa organ?
There is enough driving rock on Armed Forces. “Goon Squad,” Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Big Boys” fit that bill. But the real outstanding cuts aren’t the most driving.
“Accidents Will Happen,” at least the studio version, is fantastic plaintive fluff. The next cut, “Senior Service” is off-beat but excellent even with a slight bow to the Yardbird’s in the first verse.
“Busy Bodies” and “Moods For Moderns” are typical Costello youth and conformity numbers. “Chemistry Class” brings in hate and disillusionment. Still up to his par, Costello says more than the one-dimensional lyrics of the Ramones.
The E.P.’s version of “Accidents Will Happen” is too Englebert for me. The piano accompaniment at the expense of the studio version’s group effort makes it a novelty piece. But his version of “Alison” is excellent as is the longer “Watching The Detectives”.
There is vibrancy to the Hollywood High E.P. that shows how great Costello is in concert. Those lucky enough to catch his performances are one step ahead of fans who have only heard him on vinyl. Let’s hope that the next release will be a totally “live” album.
Still, all in all, Armed Forces (especially with the E.P.) is a worthwhile investment. And since you saved a few bucks by not buying the Ramones‘ , Billy Joel’s and a few others’ recent products this will be money well spent. This is, if you listened to my advice.