The first striking oddity of Elvis Costello's latest release, Get Happy!! is the presence of ten average-length songs squeezed onto each side of the album. Producer Nick Lowe assures us that this compact disk, produced through a technique called "groove cramming," will not result in any loss of sound quality. What he quite naturally fails to mention, however, is the possible loss of aesthetic appeal that comes with stomaching twenty Elvis Costello songs in one swallow. Despite the many outstanding cuts on this album, the fact that Get Happy!! is so needlessly long and Costello's voice so minutely versatile causes its redundancy to hit with brick-in-the-face force.
Get Happy!! is essentially a one-sided collection of memorably tuneful songs that do a nice job of masking the repetitiveness that eventually glares through. "Opportunity," with its strangely compelling mixture of foreground instrumentals, drowns out Costello's voice, leaving it with a far-off, strained edge. 't he resulting sound is an odd buzzing, something akin to a fly loose in the room. But this droned-out whine, curiously enough, is the core of the song's appeal. "Born in the middle of the second big baby boom" the pleading vocals buzz, highlighting the irony of "your big opportunity."
While "Opportunity." despite its gently prominent instrumentals, come across with a steely, hard-edged effect, "Secondary Modern" reveals Costello at his mellow peak. The flowing rhythm and constant backdrop beat smooth out all rough edges. seeming to melt over and coat Costello's voice. The resulting self-contented hum marks "Secondary Modern" as one of the album's best cuts.
With one disk side full of material that's more or less on par with "Secondary Modern," Costello can't be harshly criticized for not measuring up on the album's other side. Still, it's hard to ignore the impact of Get Happy!! as a whole, which is definitely weakened by half of its music. Aside from "Motel Matches," where Costello's voice emphatically lingers over the lyrics as the slow beat builds on the pronounced effect, side two lacks imagination and color. Actually, this half of the album represents a less artistically creative version of side one. The cuts begin to sound nearly identical as they blur into an indistinguishable pattern, hindering the recognition and enjoyment of the more savory tunes. Creative twists such as the circular rhythm, reminiscent of a merry-go-round in "New Amsterdam," and the pounding incisiveness of "High Fidelity," somehow seem to pale, rather than stand out, against the album's monotony.
While I admire Elvis Costello for his attempt to truly define the meaning of "long-playing," I can't help getting the impression that half of the material on his latest album could have been sacrificed without risking the objective of making me "Get Happy!!"