Hot on the heels of My Aim Is True comes the second album from Elvis Costello. The reason for the temporal proximity of the two records is that Elvis has recently switched record companies, Stiff (Undertakers to the Industry) released in Australia through E.M.I., to a new company Radar, released here by W.E.A.
The album is called This Years Model and it is possibly the record of the decade (I don't know for sure because there are still one and a half years to go).
Let's take the production for a start. This Years Model was produced by Nick Lowe who with this effort tops anything anyone that is in the Producers Hall Of Fame, ie, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, has ever done. Lowe has also done a masterly job on his own recently released solo album, Jesus of Cool, but it is the combination of Lowe's production and the music and lyrics of Costello, not to forget the playing of the superb Attractions (Pete Thomas, Bruce Thomas, Steve Mason) that makes this album the masterwork that it is.
A well produced album is all very fine but unless the material cuts the mustard as they say, then it's all down to packaging. Elvis delivers the goods. The finest gems to be discovered this decade. And, wise man, he has given them to the master song craftsman of the age to be honed down and precision set.
The album kicks off with "No Action," "I don't wanna kiss you / I don't wanna touch / I don't wanna see you / Cos I don't miss you that much / I'm not a telephone junkie." Straight into the '78 big beat and setting the pace for the rest. Nick Lowe calls it Pure Pop For Now People, and since he's way out in front there, why shouldn't he? Elvis is moaning, "There's no action / Every time I see you I just wanna put you down." All of Costello's songs are scorpion-like, they sound real pretty, but watch out for that sting!
"No Action" moves into "This Year's Girl." "See her picture in a thousand places / Cos she's this year's girl. / You think you all own pieces of this year's girl." A song about stardom and fashion, themes that seem to be intriguing Elvis on this album. In fact they are right up there with his other big concerns, Revenge and Paranoia. "This Years Girl" explores both sides of the star barrier and finds unhappiness everywhere. Take Joe Public; "You want her broken / With her mouth wide open / Cos she's this years girl / Never knowing is the real attraction / All those promises of satisfaction." And This Year's Girl? "Time's running out / She's not happy with the cost / There can be no doubt / Only she's forgotten much more than she's lost."
"Pump It Up" is a hustling little song that echoes Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" in it's phrasing. It's as good too.
Next up is "Little Triggers" which is to this album what "Alison" was to the first. Soft and bitter. "Little Triggers that you pull with your tongue / I don't wanna be hung up, strung up / When you don't call up." "Little sniggers on your lips, Little triggers in your grip / Little triggers / My hand on your hip."
Side one finishes with "You Belong To Me" which thumps along nicely as Elvis croons "Don't wanna be a goody-goody / Don't wanna kiss anybody / Don't want just anybody / You belong to me." "Watching the Detectives," from the first album is also included here. It sounds as good as when I first heard it eight months ago.
Side 2 is even stronger. If that's possible. "Hand in Hand" was apparently inspired by Nick Lowe's nasty experiences with a certain record company. Again the lyrics are nicely evil "Don't ask me to apologise / I won't ask you to forgive me / If I'm going to go down / Then you're going to come with me / Don't you know I've got the bully boys out / Changing someone's facial design."
The new single, "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" is a worthy follow up to "Detectives," but then I think Elvis could have released any song off the album and it would have been a worthy single. "Chelsea" is about fashion, "Give a little flirt / Give yourself a little cuddle, Cos there's no place here / For the mini-skirt waddle / Got the dope / Roll a smoke / She's last years model / Call her Natasha / When she looks like Belsen, I don't want to go to Chelsea."
From here on in the record really takes off. "Lip Service," "Living in Paradise" and "Lipstick Vogue" are so well produced it's ridiculous. You get the feeling when Lowe and Costello produce music of this quality that there is no limit to what they can do. I repeat, this is the record of the decade so far. It will be looked back on in the same way Sgt. Pepper is looked back on now. Get it while it's fresh. Tell your friends — Elvis is King!