Rhino Records effort to re-release all of Elvis Costello's albums in sets of threes continues this September with new deluxe editions of 1980's Get Happy!!, 1981's Trust, and 1983's Punch the Clock. The reissue of Get Happy!! is a monster, clocking in at 50 tracks (20 original LP cuts, side by side with 30 alternate takes, b-sides and live recordings).
After 1979's Armed Forces, Costello was hard at work constructing new songs for the follow-up. The band toured and tried some of the new material out (early versions of some songs are included on Rhino's bonus disc), but it soon became clear what they were doing. They were setting themselves up to make another Armed Forces. Becoming almost sick of the "new wave" sound associated with that album, the band decided to change direction. The result is Get Happy!! a fast paced, punked-up, whirlwind of motown and soul. I have a lot to say about this so bear with me.
The record roars out of the gate with the frantic "Love For Tender." Think "You Can't Hurry Love" on speed. Though the pace feels rushed, it's the grooviest thing the band has recorded to date. You can start to see what Costello has in store. If you pay close attention (and stop dancing), you'll hear the contrast between the lyrics and the music on more than one occasion. The bottom-heavy "Opportunity" bounces merrily along while Costello offers the friendly advice, "Whatever you do now / Don't turn around." By the end of the song he's pleading with the listener. The punk-ska beat of "The Imposter" is a high point in the proceedings, boasted by the dizzying keyboards of Steve Nieve. The album doesn't let up after this. Songs usually go by fast, as most clock in at around two minutes. They get their point across and then get out. Every song here is great.
The wistful "Clowntime is Over" is only a suggestion of the brilliance that follows. "New Amsterdam," a ballad in 3/4 waltz time is a marvel. The word play and instrumentation on this track are as wonderful as anything Costello has ever done. The track plays out like an actual romance. While it's playing, you can't do anything but succumb to it. And when it's over and gone, you want it back. Costello speaks of "transparent people" who are "living a life that is almost like suicide" but in this song, it seems he is no better off than them. Any other artist would put a song this beautiful and powerful at the close of the album. But Costello has the balls (and talent) to stick it right in the middle (it doesn't even close side a on the vinyl).
Next come three of the strongest songs in the lot. "High Fidelity" is another track about hopeless love and lust, but is much more sinister. "Even though you're nowhere near me / And I know you kiss him so sincerely now" turns into "I bet he thinks that he was chosen out of millions." The raving cover of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" fits in perfectly musically and lyrically. "Black And White World" is a herky-jerky affair, and another song that will get you moving. The bass and organ falling in and out of the song are an excellent touch.
"Riot Act" is a brooding, ponderous closer. The slow bass and drum on this song let you know it's going to be a killer even before Costello's sneering vocals come in. It's one of the only times on the album when the mood of the music matches the spirit of the lyrics completely.
All of these great things to say, and I still haven't mentioned gems like "I Stand Accused," "Secondary Modern," "Motel Matches," "Temptation," and "Possession." Plus the incredible b-sides! This is a great album for when you're alone and you want to simply listen to the lyrics, or when you're ready to have a full blown party. And come on, $15 for 50 tracks! I wholeheartedly recommend Get Happy!! to anyone who knows what a cd is.