Sunday, January 5, 2014

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Armed Forces

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Sunday.

Today (January 5th) marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Armed Forces, the third studio album from Elvis Costello and the first to officially credit the Attractions on the cover. This 1979 release charted at number 13 in the Netherlands, number 12 in Norway, number 11 in Sweden, number 10 on the US Billboard Album chart, number 9 in Australia and New Zealand, number 8 in Canada, and number 2 in the UK.


Q Magazine ranked it number 45 on its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever, while Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at number 475 on its most recent 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list.

Side one begins with "Accidents Will Happen", the tale of young and impulsive love. Released as the second single, it went to number 101 on the US Billboard chart and number 28 on the UK chart.

"Senior Service" is a song about bullying, from the school halls to the office workspace.

"Oliver's Army", the first single, hit number 25 in New Zealand, number 24 in Australia, number 4 in Ireland, and number 2 in the UK. Its bouncy, upbeat tempo counters the argument against military occupation. The music video for the song aired during the first day of broadcasting of MTV in the US in August of 1981.

"Big Boys" opens with a very limited accompaniment that pulls you immediately in. It is short, but you can feel the breathless anticipation building. The beat then begins to pound, like the beating heart of an adolescence preparing for his first date.

"Green Shirt" has a very interesting rhythm to it, from the percussion to Costello’s vocal delivery. The synthesizer accents add a nice, regal layer to it as well.

"Party Girl" is about a young woman who puts on one kind of appearance for the public, but Costello sees through her fa├žade. You can feel his passion for her which is mirrored by the swelling piano near the end.

Side two starts with "Goon Squad", another song that makes commentary about the military. This one though has a heavy, dark cloud hovering over it. He is pulling no punches on this one musically. Even the title is delivered in a booming, ominous way.

"Busy Bodies" summons up scenarios of lust, not love. But acts of meaningless sex are easily dismissed.

"Sunday's Best" has a circus calliope sound that gives the song a bit of a frivolous mood. But despite all of its dressed-up imagery, it takes a very darker turn lyrically on the second half. Costello is a master at the unexpected turn.

"Moods for Moderns" takes a funky bass groove and pairs it with interesting keyboard melodies.

"Chemistry Class" takes us back to school once more for this one about the attractions of young love.

"Two Little Hitlers" closes out the original vinyl release.

As with all of the early Elvis Costello albums, my first exposure to Armed Forces came from my older brother. He was a high school senior at the time of its release while I was in eighth grade; our music tastes really were far apart then (me still being very much into disco and pop).

As the 80's rolled in and he was off to college, Costello's work continued to nudge me through the album-rock and college radio stations. It was not until I started college myself that I began to dip into this back catalog and to appreciate the records by this band more. And, as you can see by the links below, I've reviewed quite a bit of that catalog over the last few years. Armed Forces is another solid album from the group. I enjoy the way Costello crafts his lyrics and comes up with creative musical accompaniments that keep the listener from getting bored.

For 1978's This Year's Model, click here.

For 1982's Imperial Bedroom, click here.

For 1983's Punch the Clock, click here.

For 1986's Blood & Chocolate, click here.

1 comment:

HERC said...

As the third in the masterful run of four albums that launched his career, Elvis Costello's Armed Forces showed a marked maturity in songwriting as well as subject matter. That being said, this is the least played album of the four in HERC's library. What does he know?

Thanks for another Seventies Sunday, Martin.