It has been a nine-year search, but rock and roll has finally found a poet for the decade.
Elvis Costello's importance as an artist is no longer an issue. After two incredible albums, Costello has shown a master's touch for rock artistry. By encapsulating cleverly-put statements of personal but ultimately universal sentiments in snappy, concise songs, Costello has proven he has the power to make people think as well as react.
Yes, not since Bob Dylan... oh, but we've heard that one before.
No, the current question does not concern Costello's talent. It concerns his staying power. Armed Forces is the third Elvis Costello album in a mere year and a half, and one has to wonder if the man is that prolific, or if he is just spreading himself thin.
I think the former is the correct conclusion, although on the first few hearings it doesn't seem to be the case with Armed Forces. The fact is, Costello's new tunes are not as instantly catchy as those on his first albums.
But Costello's command of language is as strong as ever, and if the record is given a few extra spins, you will find the songs slowly creeping into your consciousness.
The past themes of Costello's music remain. Strong personal statements of frustration, particularly sexual frustration, transcend to an angry and fatalistic concept of the world at large. The original title of the album was "Emotional Fascism," and that is an excellent description the personal prisons Costello describes throughout the record.
Dylan captured the attention of a generation by spouting off about the dirty old world, but he maintained a rather romantic concept of future solutions.
Despite his surly attitude, Costello is also a romantic, but he has a more jaded outlook on future possibilities. Or as he spits out on "Green Shirts," "Who put fingerprints on my imagination?"
At this time Armed Forces does not seem to match the quality of the first two Costello records, but the more I listen, the better it gets. And I'm not done listening yet.
It should also be mentioned that packaged with the album is a fine extended play single of live performances of "Alison," "Watching The Detectives" and "Accidents Will Happen." recorded last year at Hollywood High School.