Otago Daily Times, April 10, 2010

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Otago Daily Times

New Zealand publications

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Long Player: Costello showed
why he is always this year's model

In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford rediscovers the album.

Jeff Harford

Elvis Costello had hardly given the music world time to digest 1977's rocking new wave debut My Aim Is True before serving up two altogether more satisfying courses.

This Year's Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979) firmly established him as geek rock's most eloquent figurehead, an invective-spitting reincarnation of Buddy Holly out to seek revenge on every girl, goon and government that had done him wrong.

This Year's Model marks Costello's first collaboration with backing band the Attractions, a move that sharpened his sound to match the winklepicker-tipped threat of his wordplay.

Costello's guitar takes a back seat on a rhythm-driven album of sneering intensity that, despite its allusions to punk, is forging a fresh and vital form of pop music to fit the social climate of the time. There is joy and malice in the carnivalesque whirl of Steve Nieve's keyboard, and urgency in the precise, primal thumping of Pete Tomas' drums.

Some of Costello's best-recognised early songs are here: "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" is the LP's jerky, reggae-influenced centrepiece; "Pump It Up" is the power-packed party track; and (on the US version) "Radio, Radio" is the venomous swipe at those who control the airwaves.

Sandwiched between these energetic, instantly gratifying numbers are a few other corkers that highlight Costello's strength as a composer and wordsmith: "No Action" is the angry breakup tune; "Little Triggers" is the bitter ballad of deception; "Night Rally" is the alert to the dangers of nationalism.

At age 23, he is already showing remarkable breadth as a musician, albeit via an unrelentingly cynical and sarcastic approach.

This Year's Model's greatest strength is that it bristles with vitality and muscle despite this negativity. Costello is revelling in his role as the mouse that roared, the dweeb that stared down the bully, the David that took down Goliath. At the time, it was just what every spotty nerd needed to hear.

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Otago Daily Times, April 10, 2010


Jeff Harford reviews This Year's Model.


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