Change is a necessary fact. Contrary to the philosophy of dehumanized rock group DEVO, there are still a few things which not only change, but evolve — positively. Elvis Costello is one of these. His latest album Armed Forces continues along the lines developed in This Year's Model and is also a departure from them. If you build a wall, you must climb over it.
Armed Forces is by far the most musically complex of Costello's albums, with more keyboard and guitar passages, and even some vocal harmonies. Although it is very different from the stark, straight-shot My Aim Is True, Costello's aim does remain true, and his force is not lost behind the instrumentals.
It's the best one yet. Elvis combines understatement and self-restraint with devastating insight and snappy tunes. He penetrates right to that which we try to forget, ignore or deny; there is no escaping Costello's understanding of our motives. He is a masterful psychologist. Also a puppeteer; watch the twists.
Costello goes beyond the standard songwriter's handbook idea that love is just a game of war and we're all the walking wounded; "Accidents Will Happen," he tells us. At times the melody and lyrics are incongruous, as in the bouncy, cheerful "Oliver's Army." a song about mercenaries and good intentions (What's that about the road to Hell?). It is this knack for the unusual combination which produces some of Elvis' most striking music. The addition of powerful emotion. while retaining all of his control, is what makes Armed Forces an album worth hearing.
In fact, you should be prepared to hear it a great deal. Following the success of This Year's Model, it will probably take off, as it deserves to. Most of the songs on the album are excellent, and all of them are good. A couple are fated to be instant hits — but they're great anyway. Listen for "Party Girl" and "(What's so funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."
By the way. Elvis Costello will be performing at the Orpheum in Boston on March 29. Tickets are $7.50 and $8.50, available through Ticketron.