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2023 Albums Thing 085 - Elvis Costello & The Attractions “Armed Forces”

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You’ll know if you’ve got a first pressing of “Armed Forces”, the opening track “Accidents Will Happen” will jump and skip all the way through. I must have taken at least 4 copies back to the record shop before we all realised the records were flawed and I gave up. They obviously sorted it out and repressed it as I now own a flawless copy.

One other thing to mention before the music is the packaging. This is an elaborate thing of beauty. The back of the sleeve folded out in halves and quarters to reveal inside a sturdy card inner sleeve, 4 “postcards” featuring the individual members of the band and a bonus 7” EP recorded live at “Hollywood High”. The sort of luxurious artwork that had been previously bestowed upon 70’s prog-rock types. Radar were telling us EC was worth it.

“Armed Forces” is what I regard as EC’s best album, the caveat to that is that I pretty much stopped buying his records after this one, don’t know why that’s just the way it worked out. So it may be more accurately described from my viewpoint as his best album of his first three. The album’s leading single (actually released a month after the album) was “Oliver’s Army”, likely Costello’s best known song. Musically its set within a piano performance ABBA would have been proud of. Lyrically it concerns the troubles in Northern Ireland, the absurdity of writing a song about such a complicated subject (“Don’t start that talking, I could talk all night”) and features a phrase that Costello has in recent years distanced himself from (“One more widow, one less white…” you can fill the rhyme in yourself) and means he no longer performs his best known song live.

The whole album is in a similar vein, it’s a gorgeous, melodic pop record with lyrics on more serious themes. “Accidents Will Happen” is about a marriage break up; “Green Shirt” is a baroque pop beauty concerned with a newsreader (Angela Rippon ?) who “comes into my house every night” and tells of news and conspiracies and the rise of nationalism on the streets, echoing the albums original working title “Emotional Fascism”; “Goon Squad” always struck me as being about escaping the “real world” and its expectations for the life he chose; “Chemistry Class” and “Two Little Hitlers” both look at the main themes on this record, love and politics, and compare the opposite sides in a personal relationship with the opposite sides of the political spectrum (the former compares the end of a relationship to a final solution, the latter says “Two little Hitlers will fight it out until, One little Hitler does the other ones will”) all wrapped up in melodies to die for.

The Attractions are again on top form throughout, brilliantly supporting Costello’s wonderful songs. Future records were never quite as angry as this opening trio (maybe that’s why I stopped buying ?) but Costello went on to become hailed as one of Britain’s great songwriters. “Armed Forces” definitely bought to a close this period for EC.

Green Shirt - https://youtu.be/MGas0-_OwEI

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