Get Happy is Elvis Costello's fourth record and, like each of his albums since the initial My Aim Is True, it sounds like a distinct departure from its predecessors. Produced in Holland by long-time collaborator Nick Lowe, Get Happy crams ten songs onto each side and, on the first few hearings at least, they seem more or less indistinguishable from one another, none much longer than three minutes, most well under. The flat, mono-like 60's effects both distance and frustrate the listener. You have to strain to catch Costello's lyrics, garbled and spat out as usual, but the album does reward devoted listening: gradually organ riffs, then words, whole phrases and finally entire songs will begin to take shape for you.
Costello is once again exploring the checks and bounces of human relationships — you must sacrifice something to get something, and every action has its reaction. This theme runs throughout the album as Elvis compares love to, variously, a car, a hi-fi, standing up, cashing a check, and used motel matches. His punning and ironic wordplay is marvelous, delineating a soul caught in basic human, emotional conflicts, with humor and often with stunning metaphorical conceit.
The seemingly one-dimensional production gradually blossoms, with Steve Naive's keyboards creating a distinct atmosphere for each tune. Whether it's Tamla-inspired piano runs, roller-rink organ or honking mid-60's America garageband Farfisa, Naive's work is a touchstone for the listener even when the rest of the song doesn't quite kick in... which doesn't happen too often on this finally prodigious album. Despite the few fragments that haven't quite coalesced, for this listener, into full-blown tunes, and the 60's one-upsmanship and nostalgia implicit in much of the production, Get Happy is, along with Pil's Metal Box and the Clash's London Calling (with apologies to Vic Garbarini), the best rock 'n' roll this young decade has yet offered, and a clean sweep for the English.