Sunday, November 15, 2020

Elvis Costello - Armed Forces [Super Deluxe Edition] (UMe, 2020)

Elvis Costello had really hit his stride by the time his third album, Armed Forces was released in 1979. Finding in The Attractions a backing band that could match his every move and creating some of the wittiest lyrics that echoed his mantra of writing about “revenge and guilt.” made the album truly memorable. Armed Forces has been re-released several times during the intervening years by the likes of Rykodisc and Hip-O, but this one is truly deluxe, with nine vinyl records including three 12-inch LPs, three 10-inch LPs and three 7-inch singles. There is a new 2020 remaster of the original album, along with a culling together of time appropriate B-sides, alternate versions and outtakes, demos, and many live recordings featuring unreleased live tracks taken from three different concerts, along with  an extensive booklet putting the package into perspective. The music is also available in lossless and lossy download formats, but I do not believe compact disc is available. Regardless, the music packs a powerful punch, as the remastered edition of Armed Forces kicks things off. This album has always been recognized as one of his finest, and highlights from it have entered the popular music zeitgeist like the brooding sneer of “Watching the Detectives” and the devastating critiques of Thatcher's Britain, “Senior Service” and “Goon Squad.” Always scouring in his writing about interpersonal relationships, Costello includes two of his most viscous takedowns, “Party Girl” and “Two Little Hitlers” before ending the whole album with a ray of hope with the unforgettable “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?” The rest of the material in the package, both live and studio, extend and reflect on the power of the album, sometimes taking interesting liberties like Costello playing a slowed down solo piano versions of “Accidents Will Happen” before they blast off into the punkish “Mystery Dance” and building delightful tension and release on the Hollywood High concert by balancing bruising rockers with more introspective ballads like his well known song “Allison.” The Attractions, Steve Nieve on keyboards, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas on drums deserve special mention as they whip the music into shape that allows the band to swell like a protean force through “Goon Squad” on the Europe ‘79 LP which also includes scorching performances of “(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea” and “High Fidelity.” Since Costello’s vetoed name for the album was Emotional Fascism, it makes sense that an LP of outtakes bares that name.  Hot versions of “Clean Money” and “Wednesday Week” are included among a few demos and a version of “My Funny Valentine” that foreshadows his later work. The singles of the albums are represented, they were looking for airplay from “Oliver’s Army,” “Accidents Will Happen” and a curio is included of the Costello adjacent Nick Lowe single “American Squirm.” All in all, it adds up to a little over three hours worth of music, documenting one of the most creative periods of Elvis Costello’s career. This collection shows how this immaculate music, constructed in the studio layer by layer, could also be taken on the road and turned into storming rock and roll. The album, live music and alternates give us the clearest picture of the artist working at the height of his powers. Armed Forces -


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