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In 1979, it felt as if Elvis Costello had a real chance to break into the American mainstream. While punk and new wave were viewed suspiciously by radio programmers, the word-of-mouth-audience steadily grew. Costello’s considerable songwriting talents and his backing group’s forceful presentation made them the band to watch. For his third album, Costello opted to open up to a wider spectrum of sound. Pianos and ringing guitars, fussier arrangements and extra harmonies prettify Costello’s often withering lyrics. “Accidents Will Happen,” “Oliver’s Army” and Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” come brightly wrapped in tight, clean, radio-friendly production, while there’s a brilliant paranoid claustrophobia to “Green Shirt,” a halting reggae to “Two Little Hitlers” and a hypnotic downward spiral to “Chemistry Class.” Though the arrangements are lighter, the lyrics are darker and more obscure, using political metaphors to unravel the mysteries of love.
The best artist (and BAND) to come out of England other than the Beatles. Period. Oliver's Army was an "Icicle" plunged straight into the heart of the cadavers of Disco and The Eagles. For me, then in my late teens, this was all it took to say "Enough of this FM Rock crap". I haven't looked back since. I had the same feeling two years earlier when i heard "Pretty Vacant" for the first time (in a Biker bar no less!). To anyone who spent their teens in the Jimmy Carter era, having to endure being the "little brothers & sisters" of the Hippy generation, as well as suffering the Disco morons, this was a literal Life Saver... And a beacon.
One of the 5 best albums ever.
And the only reason I don't list it as #1 is because I hate making anything "the best". But if I did, this would probably be it. Every track is a hard-edged look at the raw emotions that go with passions and angst of young adult life, and the rebellion and unavoidable acceptance of the fact that this is it. The game won't change for you. Cope. Deal. Get over it. I bought the album when it was new vinyl in 1979. I bought the CD when it came out. Now that I have misplaced it (DAMN!!! I WANNA HEAR IT NOW!!!) I am going to have to buy it again. Throw it in your CD/MP3 player in your car, crank the volume, and get ready to drive real fast. It is still that freaking good.
"Busy Bodies" Getting Nowhere
The iTunes version is not the same album that was released in the States, however; "Sunday's Best" is inexplicably substituted for "Busy Bodies" ("Sunday's Best" would eventually find it's way to "Taking Liberties", a collection of odds and sods). But Steve Nieve's piano and keyboards are front and center, which makes this disc seem more sophisticated than many of Costello's contemporaries, and hints at the pop lushness of "Imperial Bedroom". Certainly one of the touchstones of the New Wave era, "Armed Forces" less bitter and more political than "This Year's Model", but points the way to the playful pop of "Get Happy!!" and on to modern sounds like The Figurines.
Born: August 25, 1954 in Paddington, London, England
Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s