I was somewhat hesitant about falling in love with My Aim Is True. It didn't make my 1977 Top Ten LP list because the songs run together and the performances don't all quite cut it. For sure, there are some great tracks on the album, but not enough for a wholehearted endorsement.
Seeing Elvis on two nights during his first US tour led to one obvious conclusion — the new material he was performing ran circles around the released tunes. On the assumption that these songs either had been or were about to be recorded, I suggested that the followup LP was going to be amazing. Chalk one up for a premonition: This Year's Model not only shows vast improvements, but a few stunning innovations as well. Elvis has shaken off a lot of the R&B associations and added the neatest Farfisa organ sound this side of ? and the Mysterians. The songs are stronger, the performances more intense and threatening, the arrangements more varied, and the music much more adventurous in structure and design.
"No Action" kicks it off in what is becoming typical Elvis putdown style. Not since Dylan's heyday has any one performer succeeded so well at telling people via songs where to get off. "Everytime I phone you / I just want to put you down." The music is straight-ahead and aggressive. This Year's Girl" is a more generally aimed attack at temporal female super-stars, with churning Farfisa and upfront drumming. With syncopated vibrato guitar and complex jazz singing, Elvis. bubbles through "The Beat," showing the new complexity of his music. Every bit as good as I remember it live.
"Pump it Up" has a real American feel to it, mixing a verse that sounds a lot like "Subterannean Homesick Blues" and a refrain that comes straight out of some mid-sixties' songbook. Another rousing organ performance gives it all the gism it needs. The slow song, "Little Triggers," is next, and if you liked "Alison," you'll probably feel the same way about this one. However, if the idea of the Stones' "Last Time" being played on organ sounds interesting, then try "You Belong to Me," with it's straight Standells'.
A bizarre Hendrix-like intro (???) leads into "Hand in Hand," the token Spector-beat track. "If I'm gonna go down / you're gonna come with me." It's a great vocal performance that infectiously invites audience participation. The dynamics are amazing — without changing intensity, the attack shifts from violent to subtle. "Lip Service" starts out like a Hollies' song and turns into another rousing putdowner, complete with handclaps.
On stage, Elvis introduced "Living in Paradise" as a song he's written about America. Composed of three distinct sections, the reggaeish verse gears down to a minor bridge and then up into the singalong chorus. Elvis has developed a very effective style of strumming just one chord and letting it ring, creating a less-is-more hole where other guitarists would keep right on banging away. "Lipstick Vogue" begins with a breakneck drum line that runs throughout the song, followed closely by a skittering jazz bass line. Elvis spits the vocals out between clenched teeth: "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumour / You've got to cut it out."
Beginning with an intro that smacks of "Born to Run," Elvis ends the LP with his best song ever, "Radio Radio." All of the anger and hate he can muster goes into this brilliant opus aimed (there's that word again) at the most vacuous and frustrating enemy a recording artist can have — the people that control the airwaves.
- "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
- I wanna bite that hand so badly
- I wanna make them wish they'd never seen me
- "Either shut up or get cut up
- They don't want to hear about it
- It's only inches on the reel-to-reel
- And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
- Trying to anesthetize the way you feel."
It's a perfect paradox. Here's a song that's as good a 'driving' song as any that's ever been, yet no d.j. in the USofA will have the nerve to play it. Elvis is showing off his integrity, and thumbing his nose at the radio industry as well by daring them to play it. Without a doubt, this song could be a top ten single in America if it weren't for the lyrics. And he's so right, to boot.