Just the other day, over "lunch," a bunch of us were chewing the quorn about the new Blur album and I chipped in that, while "Girls And Boys" was excellent, Parklife as a whole suffered from a surfeit of pastiche. "The lyrics go nowhere and it all sounds like an exercise in recreation rather than creation," I announced.
Later that afternoon, I gleefully took delivery of this re-issue and it struck me that what I'd said could equally be levelled at Get Happy!!, which I adored when it first appeared. It's the sources, I suppose. Get Happy!! plunders Stax and Motown influences, infinitely more appealing to your reporter than Blur's jerky, English, Kinks-and-cockernee grab-bag. Coming after the slick Armed Forces album, its cool, if nervy, set of two-minute nuggets was a neat two fingers at anyone who expected Costello to run out of ideas. The ruse of making it a 20-tracker, apeing the popular 20 Golden Greats albums of the time, and concentrating on black American styles during the height of the power pop boom was a splendidly audacious way of pre-empting the expected backlash and answering American critics still fuming after the unfortunate "Ray Charles incident" (It's a long story. Ask yer dad).
It flopped like a bastard.
But it's fascinating that all the vices that spoil Costello's oeuvre - too little editing, spewing out puns and aphorisms, self-conscious fandom - are all present in bucketloads and yet, for me — unlike any other Costello album — it works perfectly. One factor in its favour is that The Attractions were outrageously good by this time — facilitative, tough and tight — and would never sound as supple again. The production is sparse and spontaneous but warm and full of a sense of place, just like the Stax tracks it aspired to. Highlights are the croonsome "Secondary Modern," the yearning "Clowntime Is Over," the look-at-us-we-can-do-the-MGs "Temptation" and the blazing "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." Each track has something to recommend it. And, if you don't like one, there'll be another along in a minute.
For your further listening pleasure, Demon have tacked on another 11 tracks (including an unlisted demo at the end), most of which have seen service in the past on B-sides and compilations. Of particular note are the slow version of "Clowntime," the similarly goose-pimply "Just A Memory," the caffeine-injected version of "Getting Mighty Crowded," and the marimba-spooked "Ghost Train." All very fine tunes, but this extra batch of songs weakens the taut power of the original album.
Proof you can have too much of a good thing.