"It sounds crazy," Elvis Costello told Mojo last year. While working with producer Sebastian Krys on the box set of 1979's Armed Forces, he said, they were preparing "a much more extreme revisiting" of 1978's This Year's Model. It was, Costello confided, "a complete re-recording of the original with my voice removed."
In his place, artists from Latin America and Spain including Chilean-American hitmaker Francisca Valenzuela, Uruguayan Oscar-winner Jorge Drexler and ex-Menudo voice Draco Rosa sang the album in Spanish. True to his word that he'd tell us more, here's Elvis on Zoom, in a hoodie and shades, his Argentine-born producer in the frame beside him.
When Costello first suggested a Spanish remake, Krys says, "I just kind of went quiet. Then I thought, this is in line with what I've seen you do in the past; out-of-the-box records," such as March's Francophone EP with Iggy Pop, or a duet in Italian with Andalusian singer Vega — whose version of "Running Out Of Angels" is one of Spanish Model's highlights.
Non-Spanish-speaker Costello had three requirements for the album: he didn't want a big-name cast; each singer would translate their choice of song; and the Attractions' original backing tracks would be used. "There is not a note of new instrumental music on it," Costello says, meaning he's kind of made a new record with Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas, who he last worked with in 1996. Why?
"We weren't looking to do one of those remix records where it's like, add a bunch of fashionable dance production moves. What really needs to be said is how great the band is. Take my voice out of it and the playing from Pete [Thomas], Bruce [Thomas] and Steve [Nieve] is sensational. They could have played every single band from 1977 and 1978 right off the stage and into next week," he bristles. "Listen. Find me three other people that can play like that today, never mind then. You can't. And at that time we didn't know enough to fuck it up."
The Attractions have all heard the Spanish re-rub, as have original producer and engineer Nick Lowe and Roger Béchirian. Their responses, Costello says, range from "intrigued" to "very, very positive," and will be made public at some point. There are 16 songs in all, fusing the different versions released in the UK and US, plus 'Big Tears,' a track Costello had always wanted included, with "a rhythm guitar duel between me and Mick Jones with Pete powering the drum."
Several of the Spanish singers are women. "I thought it was a really great opportunity to turn the songs on their head," says Elvis. The predominantly male rock critics of the time, he adds, "say a lot of hatred of women in these songs that weren't there frankly. Read me the words of 'This Year's Girl' and tell me where it expresses hatred. It doesn't! It expresses dismay at the ideas that the girl in the song has to subscribe to. If you want to hear a song that's actually pretty indefensible, it's The Rolling Stones' 'Stupid Girl.' Read the lyric of that one and tell me which one is the misogynist, me or Mick! 'This Year's Girl' is unashamedly modelled on 'Stupid Girl' but I wanted to flip it. And now," he smiles, "we flip it again with [Chilean voice] Cami singing it and the band churning away as they ever were."