Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elvis Costello And The Attractions-This Year's Model


Artist: Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Album: This Year's Model
Label: Radar Records
Year: 1978

while I struggle to finish album #46's's a record I've been listening to a bunch the last few days...

Sandwiched between his debut My Aim Is True and the close of Costello's slightly-more-punk beginning of his career Armed Forces, This Year's Model is miles away the finest album of the guy's career. I'm sure his middle and later albums have their fans and followers, but nothing he ever did comes close to This Year's Model. No poetry, no bullshit, just fucking anger and sexual frustration, as most great albums represent in some form. While My Aim Is True is often viewed as his best, the lack of power from his backing band continues to hold it back in my mind. I can think of few performers who owe so much the quality of their music as Elvis Costello owes The Attractions. While Armed Forces, it's follow-up, would be an admirable effort, the political ramblings just aren't as genuine as Costello's near-psychotic romantic ramblings. The album's greatness lies in the humor, craziness, and out of control feeling that every song features.
Costello had already established himself as a romantic on his first album, as well as certainly the most talented artist in the "new wave" movement. But from the opening chords of "No Action," it is clear that with This Year's Model, Costello has taken everything up a notch. It sets the perfect tone for the album; not so much about romance as about the messed-up mental games people play with each other. "I thought I told you we were just good friends," Costello implores, but throughout the album, he plays the role as both victim and ...well...asshole. And Pete Thomas's sensational drumming is out of this world. Every cymbal crash is exciting, every tom roll is magnificent. In under two minutes, Costello unleashes a vicious opening track that does exactly what a song in that slot must do.
Every song has some perverted undertone. "This Year's Girl" really introduces the paranoia that underlies a lot of the album, and "Living In Paradise" is another example of paranoia and jealousy, as Costello wonders who the next guy will be used is from the girl he just split from. And let's not forget the sexual innuendo/perversion. In "Hand In Hand" he sings "If I'm gonna go down, you're gonna come with me." And in a lot of the album, he just hates romance. In "Lipstick Vogue" he sings "Love is just a tumor you've got to cut it out," before declaring, as hysterically, "sometimes I almost feel, just like a human being."
There is no weak cut on the album. "Pump It Up" is one of his most loved songs at this point, and even with the crazy way the album sounds, nearly careening out of control at points as Costello's lyrics lag a beat behind and are delivered in an accelerated pace, the album lasts. The American copy replaced two cuts (deemed "too British") with "Radio, Radio" and while that album is from the same period and certainly as good as everything here, it doesn't fit. It's a single, and while vitriolic and excellent, doesn't have the maniacal feeling the original twelve tracks do.
I am by no means a huge fan of Costello, only having heard the first three albums in full repeatedly, and never loving Aim or Armed Forces save a track or two. But This Year's Model is excellent on every possible level, and should be heard by all.

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