It's probably a New Rock ideal to cram ten songs onto each side of a record, and Get Happy!! isn't the first disc to attempt this. But when the most important songwriter of recent years, Elvis Costello, condenses his considerable craft down to a barrage of two-minute songs it is a noteworthy moment for today's rock.
There is so much new material here that Get Happy!! may lack the immediate impact of Armed Forces. And in a certain sense, Costello loses a bit of the momentum that has been building from one album to the next since his breakthrough three years ago. But even on the least impressive cuts, where an Elvis "formula" can almost be cited ("I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," "I Stand Accused"), there remains an infectiousness about the Attractions' basic beat.
With the intensity of a Costello "live" performance, this studio session races from one tune into another, rarely letting up on a persistent pulse or relinquishing its hold on our senses. Behind the fervent tempo and steady stream of Costelloesque melodic hooks, as simple as they may seem, Elvis is an engagingly clever lyricist too — even when many of his songs center around typical topics of love, break-up, and loneliness. There's a slightly angry edge to these lyrical statements, and only a touch of humor in Costello's serious image juxtapositions.
Best of the rockers include "The Imposter" and "King Horse," while other cuts show an interesting debt to such historical figures as the Beatles ("Possession," "Beaten To The Punch"), Booker T. & The M.G.'s ("Temptation"), and Buddy Holly. Get Happy!! also draws heavily on Caribbean reggae and ska rhythms (Costello recently produced The Specials for Chrysalis) that make for excellent songs like "Opportunity" and "Human Touch." When he slows down further for "New Amsterdam," "Riot Act," and "Motel Matches," Elvis is sometimes painfully evocative: "...forever doesn't mean forever anymore."
Nick Lowe writes in his liner notes that he and Costello shared concern over the number of tracks on the LP. "We can now reassure hi-fi enthusiasts and/or people who never bought a record made before 1967," he says, "that with the inclusion of this extra music time they will find no loss of sound quality due to 'groove cramming' as the record nears the end of each face." Actually, from an artistic standpoint, this volume could have been pared down to the standard six bands per side without injury. But there's good new material here, and maybe the hectic schedule lends this package extra urgency.