New Music, March 1979

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New Music
  • 1979 March

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Emotional Fascism

Elvis Costello and the Attractions / Armed Forces

Cameron Carpenter

Armed Forces is the third effort by Elvis Costello and the Attractions and by far their best. The groundwork that was laid in their debut, My Aim Is True, and built upon in This Year's Model, has served them well for Armed Forces. This is the one that should wake the rest of you up. It should also establish the New-Wave on AM radio.

The two songs that really stand out on this record are "Green Shirt" and "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding." Working with a minimum of instrumentation, "Green Shirt" highlights Costello's voice. It's got the hooks that made "Mystery Dance" so enjoyable, but they are set in a very modern mood. This could become the cliché sound for the Eighties.

"What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" seems like an ironic song for rock's "angry young man" to be singing. (Nick Lowe wrote it.) People, judging by the lyrics on Costello's last three albums, have always thought he was a meanie. So what's he doing singing about peace and love? Could this be an image change, or a return to the Sixties philosophy? His music is Sixties-influenced so why not his lyrics? I don't know, I just think it's the best pop song on the record!

The other ten songs are pure Costello and that's quite an accomplishment. After only three albums Elvis has managed to create a style that is instantly recognizable as Costello. He has also created a style that is loved, hated, and, witness Linda Ronstadt, copied.

Listening to Armed Forces is not as terrifying as you may think. The only time you need to worry is when you listen to, and think about, the lyrics.


The New Music, No. 8, March 1979

Cameron Carpenter reviews Armed Forces.


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Page scan.

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Cover and contents page.


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