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22 June 2011

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - 'Armed Forces' (Columbia)

This time the Attractions get billed, showing a move away from the cult of personality created by My Aim is True. Maybe this is why I hear this as a more cohesive band record, in everything from the keyboard arrangements of 'Senior Service', the group playfulness of 'Big Boys', or the backing vocals throughout the LP. We are a tad closer to new wave but also with a musical sophistication not heard on This Year's Model. And lyrically, Costello is taking a step to more global themes with 'Oliver's Army', the memorable hit from this record, along with '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding', which appears on this US pressing. 'Peace, Love and Understanding' is a great ending to the record, though to be honest, it doesn't fit; Elvis' snarled, bold vocalising is out of place with the rest of the LP, and it feels a bit tacked-on, despite being an iconic tune. There's quite a few great songs, because this was really the peak of his songwriting prowess, still poised on that balancing beam of relevancy. 'Army' is a somewhat complex one, dealing with Northern Irish political conflict but through the disguised format of the upbeat pop song. It pisses all over U2, but that's not tough is it? But despite this new theme, Armed Forces has plenty of classic Elvis Costello bile. 'Green Shirt' retains that jilted bitterness that made the first two records so great, even if the arrangement is more 80's radio friendly and the production infuses the song with a confidence almost disregarding it's lyrical angle. This confidence is heard in a strong drum sound (check out 'Chemistry Class' which has none of the ragged edge of a tune like 'Lipstick Vogue' or 'Miracle Man') and lots of keyboards - piano, and synth assonance between the gaps. The original title of the album, still printed in the liner notes, was 'Emotional Fascism' and that's a wonderful gem to chew on.

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