...Elvis Costello is back with the deranged fury of the rabid squirrel Costello so uncannily resembles. Get Happy!! (the title is full of sardonic irony) is a single disc containing an incredible "20 Hits! 20!!"
They're short, intense songs, though the record runs only a little over 40 minutes total. His lyrics are as cryptic, brittle and metaphorical as ever, and require a great deal of concentration especially as he still insists, somewhat sadistically, on not printing the lyrics with his alburns.
Costello defies the listener to understand what he's saying, which is quite a chore, considering his bleating baritone voice, lockjaw diction and a production that purposely compresses the frequency range of the vocals for lone assumes) artistic effect. Those who can get through the album a few times, however, will find it intriguing.
The relatively sleek sound of last year's Armed Forces is gone. Get Happy!! brings back the raw, rough British punk reggae quality Costello had before complete with tin-can organ, stylish blotches of reverb and echo, air-hammer drums and blasts of backup chorus by the Attractions.
It's rough, but not unfinished. Producer Nick Lowe knows exactly what he's doing, and he gets the effect he wants. Something else is gone, too — the heavy sociopolitical commentary of past albums. Costello's metaphors here are not so sweeping. He concentrates on personal relationships from an obsessively adolescent point of view.
Costello the pun-slinger rides again here, twisting words and phrases around: "I step on the brake to get out of the clutches," he sings in "New Amsterdam" to a cheating girlfriend, he moans about clues "giving you away like motel matches" in "Motel Matches."
What really stands out is Costello's and Lowe's deft handling of the musical arrangements. Sometimes it's subtle, like the alternation of 3-beat and 5-beat meters in "Secondary Modern." More often it's a conscious use of cliched, banal phrases...