USC Daily Trojan, February 8, 1979

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Elvis Costello spurts growth in risky,
gutsy Armed Forces

Jim Czarnecki

With his third album, Elvis Costello has made his promise come true. Armed Forces is a fresh out spurt of growth. The shy, computer technician is still one of the only outspoken rebels of rock music.

Armed Forces contains no concessions, only risks. It takes guts to sing about the pain of forced retirement, the feeling of being considered worthless by society at 65, but Elvis does it with "Senior Service." He packages this unusual pop statement into a perfect jumpy melody.

Costello has grown musically by adapting a variety of styles and motifs and blending them into his own. He succeeds in sounding pleasantly reminiscent of the 60s — while sounding like no one else around today. Most of this can be credited to Nick Lowe, who is carrying on an ambiguous love hate relationship with the 60s. Lowe has produced all three of Costello's albums as well as being a performer himself. He knows more hooks than a top-40 disc jockey and can make a recording sound urgent even in your living room. Costello never sounds like he is singing at you, rather he is always singing to you.

Costello's voice has finally emerged as his most powerful device. When he snarlingly announces that "It's the words that we don't say that hurts me so," one realizes the number of times this is true. Costello's lyrics are meant to be heard — not read — and that is why one can excuse their omission on the album's jacket.

Costello's characters are still outcasts. Only now they are accepting their fate. On "Goon Squad" a boy grows up too soon, searching for his place. With fright, Costello admits the character never thought he was different — "never thought he'd end up in the Goon Squad" — but he is not thinking of leaving either. Lowe and Costello give this song, like many others on the album, a bigger, fuller sound than Costello has previously worked with. "Goon Squad" is stuffed with added sound effects that pop out with each listening. Their novelty contrasts to a point of clearly displaying the character's isolation.

Costello works with another type of isolation on "Big Boys." It is the story of the adolescent who insists on being accepted into his older brother's group of friends. Though the story line may sound as simple as a Leave It to Beaver episode, Costello injects it with images of sexual prowess that widens its emotional range.

Again his character is outside, looking to be like the others but cannot for obvious reasons.

A lot of rock music stems from this yearning to grow up. Costello has grown up, stylistically and intellectually, but he still has not lost his rebellious spirit. At the end of the 70s, Costello is looking around to find only "pain, hatred, and misery." He sings "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?," the album's finale, in such a cold tone that one hears Costello going onward without turning around to see the past. By relying on determination, Costello is winning.


The Daily Trojan, February 8, 1979

Jim Czarnecki reviews Armed Forces.


1979-02-08 USC Daily Trojan page 11 clipping 01.jpg

1979-02-08 USC Daily Trojan page 12 clipping 01.jpg

1979-02-08 USC Daily Trojan page 11.jpg
Page scan.


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