It has to be said that my opinion of Elvis was much elevated by his recent appearance on the invaluable Tiswas. For a man not renowned for his forthcoming charms he came across a remarkably friendly and warm and generally void of those dark neuroses we hear so much about. He even threw buckets of water at the cage, though, and I think this might have been significant, it was noticeable that he didn't want to get his clothes wet.
Aha: now this might tell us everything we wish to know! Elvis the recluse, Elvis the neurotic thinker, Elvis with fists flailing and jaw set firm and solid, Elvis the victim of romance, and now Elvis the Kevin Keegan of rock; but he wouldn't launch himself at those buckets. The Elv image had gone a long way to brazenly de-mystifying itself, but there was still a part of it that wouldn't let go, a part of it that stayed indifferent and taut, perhaps the part that ran circles round you on "Oliver's Army" and still didn't tell you a thing. Elvis stayed hidden and a little smug.
With Get Happy!! the process is the same, and the red-herring clouds and mists are just as frustrating. The album title for start, unless I've missed a signal irony, seems to be Costello and producer Lowe's banner-attempt at crass, keeping in with the "liberated" Ska mood of the times, jollification. A scream of "who gives a shit" to match the squirming, half-convinced smiles on the sleeve and the groovy-fun notes on the back: hey let's get happy and daa-ance! Give anything two exclamation-marks and it'll make ya feel good, sort of thing, which is blundering and Godforsaken and just serves to trip you up before you've had the chance of uncovering the almost covert genius of this record.
I hope I've missed that irony because it's the difference between a "classic" pop album and a sadly-flawed attempt at a "classic" pseudo-soul album. The labels are playful but worth investigating.
For the moment I'll pump for Get Happy!! with flawed, half-formed revamped soul leanings which seem to gradually and wonderfully vanish as the album progresses (in turn establishing it as that unbeatable creature, an lp that starts off well and keeps on getting better and better until it touches brilliance). All across the first side (and this is a record of two distinct sides) there's the feeling that you are listening to a very good album with an unquestionably Great Album trying to struggle free; the marvelous point is, that this happens almost from the beginning of the second side of music, where Get Happy!! soars to a pinnacle of Costello's combined creative force, by the end leaving the listener quite breathless.