Album Review: Elvis Costello's first two albums were a notable success, spawning hit singles and establishing Costello as one of the top emerging stars in the punk-turned-new-wave world that was blossoming in the late 1970s. As good as those first two albums were, however, the pinnacle was to be the third studio album, Armed Forces (officially from "Elvis Costello and the Attractions").
As Costello's production skills and sense of melody and timing caught up with his towering talent for crafting tongue-tripping and brain-twisting lyrics, the result was an astonishing array of tight, hip, bouncy pop songs. Armed Forces opens with "Accidents Will Happen," which became a major hit single. For those of you who know this song and like it, the good news is that the rest of the album is just as good, sometimes better. Other melodic monsters on Armed Forces include "Moods for Moderns," "Big Boys," "Busy Bodies," "Senior Service" and, especially, "Oliver's Army."
Things slow down a little for the sardonic "Party Girl" and the almost-delicate "Green Shirt"; and Costello practically smolders on the exquisite "Chemistry Class." The song "Goon Squad" and
the live version of "Watching the Detectives" share a wonderfully bold, fat sound that (unfortunately) would go AWOL from Costello's army of sounds on many of his subsequent albums. Lastly, a second major single popped out of Armed Forces—the world anthem, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?"
Though Elvis Costello's career has spanned three decades, Armed Forces was his songwriting peak, and this excellent Rhino repackaging does it great justice. The first CD on this double-disc package gives you all the songs from the original vinyl release and adds an out-take from the Armed Forces sessions—the enjoyably quirky "Sunday's Best". (You can hear clips of these 13 songs in the widget to the right.) The second disk has five non-LP B-sides and a slew of alternate and live versions; all totaling up to 30 tracks. This album is a great example of New Wave in top form. Ten-hut!