Elvis Costello and the Attractions take a giant step backwards with their new album Get Happy!! (Columbia Records).
Not that it's not good. It is very good. But everything about the LP reminds one of the pop scene of the 1960s.
The album cover is in garish Day-glo colors befitting a 13th Floor Elevators record, with an itsy-bitsy note from producer Nick Lowe on the back, promising the listener that despite the large number of songs on the LP, there will be no loss of sound fidelity.
How many songs are we talking about? Twenty of them, ten to a side, like one of those Tee Vee Records collections. Costello always writes short and to-the-point songs, but almost every number on Get Happy!! clocks in at 2½ minutes or less. No room for drum solos here.
There's lots of room for a rinky-dink organ, and Steve Naive's keyboards punctuate Costello's songs in the best tradition of the immortal Question Mark and the Mysterians. Each Costello album has made keyboards a bit more prominent than the last, and Get Happy!! finds virtually everything on side one (or, as the cover says, side two) delightfully dripping with Naive's work. Songs like "Opportunity," "Love for Tender," "Clowntime Is Over" and "The Imposter" should do for organ shops what the other Elvis did for guitar stores.
The happy organ isn't all there is to Get Happy!!. The best songwriter to come out of the New Wave manages to come up with something for everyone here, and proves time and time again that he really can sing. He's melancholy, of course, and bitter, as usual, but the format gives him room to try new things, albeit for two minutes at a time.
Like two nonoriginals, the first ones Costello has recorded for an album. "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" (a current U.K. single) is a raucous version of an old Sam and Dave flipside and "I Stand Accused" is a British Invasion rocker that Costello has done in concert for some time. Much of the material here has the feel of good Motown/Stax soul and the simpler rock of the '60s.
The usually frantic Costello successfully slows down with "Motel Matches" (another con-cert standard) and the beautiful "Secondary Modern." Basically, Get Happy!! is fine Elvis Costello, with good, tight songs and sometimes indecipherable lyrics (if only they could have enclosed a lyric sheet). Only two of the songs leave me cold ("Black and White World" and "Men Called Uncle"); but how many albums have 18 good songs on them?