The title of Elvis Costello's second album suggests that this LP will answer the musical question: is this Buddy Holly clone just another flash in the pan or will he, as his near-perfect debut album My Aim Is True suggested, go on to become a major figure in rock? The cover photo, in which Costello, hunched over a camera, stares at you with an enigmatically befuddled look on his face, should give it away. There are no answers to be found here, just hints, confusion and two fistful's of powerful rock 'n' roll.
On This Year's Model Costello continues in much the same vein as his first album — simple, catchy melodies and a plethora of stolen riffs combine with mordant, explosive lyrics to form three minute vignettes that are all hook. It's damn-near impossible to listen to this album and not immediately start to sing along, regardless of whether you know the words or not. (Continuing in the tradition of My Aim Is True, the vocals are muddled, muttered, and mashed; it all sounds absolutely perfect that way.) The difference this time is that the overall sound is rawer, more basic, with Farfisa organ and twangy guitar riffs making it clear that Costello is more a child of the early Sixties than any Seventies new wave.
Here we have what being a teenager was really about — anger, frustration and hurt. We may have been singing, "I Want To Hold Your Hand," but what we really meant was I want to break your neck and it is that crackling tension that Costello has so perceptively tapped. Even the great god of puberty cannot escape unscathed when, during the virulent canonade "Radio, Radio," Costello growls "I want to bite the hand that feeds me." He then attains the status of Dangerous Man that people like Mick Jagger and Johnny Rotten only limply aspire to.
Whether Elvis Costello will disappear in a fading blaze of rage or grow into a major artist still remains an open question. He can't go on reworking the same themes for more than another album, if only because there's just so much unrelenting negativity people can take, no matter how eloquently stated. But as "This Year's Girl," "Pump it Up," and "Hand in Hand" blast from my stereo, it doesn't seem to matter. This Year's Model will carry Costello, at least, through 1978. And that's longer than most "instant geniuses" last in the meat grinder of rock 'n' roll.