Punch The Clock, Elvis Costello's ninth album, continues Costello's trend toward a more elegant, showy style, while maintaining his themes of alienation and obscured truths. 1977's, My Aim Is True was a new-wave breakthrough album, using spare, fierce musical arrangements and bitter lyrical doses to help define the original new wave sound. On Get Happy, his fourth album, Costello moved toward a Memphis-style soul sound, with catchy musical hooks and lyrical wordplay. Get Happy was followed by two similar albums and 1981's pure-country Almost Blue. Punch The Clock continues in the pattern of Elvis Costello's career, from harsh to smooth.
Punch The Clock is an album in the pop music tradition, there is no trace of rock and roll present. Keyboards and horns carry the musical load, with guitars played down in the mix. On several numbers, Costello's use of horns is a good approximation of soul music. Others, most notably "Shipbuilding," match elegant piano themes with reflective, bittersweet lyric themes. The majority of the album consists of mid-tempo keyboards-and-horns numbers which Costello delivers in a wistful voice. Musically, the album seems to glide effortlessly from style to style, establishing its theme in its eclectic nature.
Elvis Costello has always been preoccupied with alienation and the complexities of modern life, and how they obscure the basic realities of life. Where earlier in his career he would rail at these complexities in blind anger, he now subtly accents lyrics of bittersweet, confused pain with an eclectic, almost confusing range of musical backings. In "The Element Within Her" Costello sings "It's the element within her / Something under her skin" ... In "Love Went Mad" he asks "Do you feel like I Feel? / Do you have a heart? / Do you have a heart of iron and steel?" Some would say Elvis Costello has bent under the pressure of the world he once reviled. What Punch The Clock makes as a response is that he has merely sidestepped it for a different angle of attack.
This record is available at Round Records-Ticketron.