Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Elvis Costello - This Year's Model

This Year’s Model was the first recording with Elvis and his fantastic backing band, the Attractions. The musicians were particularly stellar, especially mind-boggling bassist Bruce Thomas, who formed a solid unit with organist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas. Their interplay with Costello has yet to be matched by any of his subsequent backing bands (that I’ve heard, anyway). This is far & away my favorite Costello release and is solid from start to finish.

The band comes charging out of the gate with “No Action”, and the guitar/organ combination has a terrific sound as they power through this rocker with Costello’s patented, pissed off lyrics. Pete Thomas creates a cool, unusual beat as the base for “This Year’s Girl”. The production on this record was particularly strong, as well, given each instrument the perfect tone. Everyone interacts to create a cool wall of sound on this.

I get another “film noir” feel in “The Beat”, with its spy movie rhythms and Bruce Thomas’ expressive bass playing. Another great line: “I don’t wanna be your lover, I just wanna be your victim”. Then comes one of the best of the bunch – “Pump It Up”, a bouncy groove with a crazy meandering bass line. Supremely catchy riffs and vocals and even a shout-along “Hey!” What more could you ask for? “She’s like a narcotic, you wanna talk to her, you wanna torture her” – Elvis balanced on the thin line of misogyny but never seems to cross completely – at least in my eyes.

He finally lets up on the ballad, “Little Triggers”, which I find to be one of the least successful from the record. As always, not bad, but so slow as to drag a bit without anything to really keep your attention. Back on track with his rip off of “The Last Time” with “You Belong to Me” – upbeat, with great ensemble playing and more perfectly jealous lyrics.

Another intricate arrangement for “Hand in Hand” works with dynamics and open space to make something really special and rockin’. Another highlight is the pseudo-reggae of “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”, this record’s “Watching the Detectives”. Again, this is noir-ish, with terrific riffs from everyone and an incessant rhythm that you can’t help but move to.

“Lip Service” is another solid rock’n’roller with an excellent, double entendre, sing-along chorus. It sounds like Costello was either perpetually being dumped or so jealous of other guys' attentions on his girls that the relationship wasn’t going to last long, as in the line in “Living in Paradise”: “you’re already looking for another fool like me”. You can still see the C&W roots of this song (see the bonus tracks of My Aim Is True), but the Attractions do imbue this with their own sound.

Pete just goes crazy on the drums in “Lipstick Vogue” and doesn’t let up for the entire length of the tune. This is a high energy blast that is really driven by the toms but the band works its magic throughout and Bruce even gets a semi-bass solo that builds until a break down to the jungle drums. That cat had some stamina! The sound grows back until it climaxes in a final, frantic chorus with shouted “heys!” behind Elvis (which are –almost - always a good thing!) Amazing arrangement!

The other slow tune here is “Night Rally”, which is my other least favorite. Just nothing special here, except for the bizarre line “get that chicken outta here”! But the album finished with the phenomenal “Radio, Radio”, which I think is one of his all time best songs! Energetic, catchy as hell, extremely fitting lyrics and cool licks. A breath taking end to a great record!

There is a bonus disc with this CD issue, as well, with tons of treats! “Big Tears” is an outtake from the album sessions and it has Mick Jones from the Clash on guitar, though his presence is a bit overwhelmed in the mix by the keyboards. A song from the soundtrack of Americathon (no idea!) is “Crawling to the USA”, which to me sounds a bit like Nick Lowe (never a bad thing!), though I always thought that Elvis, Nick and Dave Edmunds all were somewhat similar is writing styles. There are several acoustic demos (“Running Out of Angels”, “Greenshirt”, “Big Boys” – the later two later turned up on Armed Forces), electric solo demos of “You Belong to Me” and “Radio, Radio” (the arrangements are essentially there but the band added a lot to these tunes, naturally) and a phenomenal live version of the Damned’s “Neat, Neat, Neat” done super slow and spooky with the sax player from Ian Dury’s Blockheads. You can’t even tell what the song is at first – a super unique take on this! There is also a live cover of Dury’s “Roadette Song” with a similar feel and also with sax.

An alternative, full band version of “This Year’s Girl” is at supersonic speed – I think that Pete was popping purple hearts for this session! Conversely, “I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea” is slower to the point of practically plodding and the band contributions just aren’t quite as dynamic as on the “official” cut. Another “Stranger in the House” appears, this one from a BBC session, and again much slower but still quite effective.

Overall, this is the pinnacle of the legacy of the Stiff Records artists – a terrific album through and through and wonderful bonuses! Everyone should own this one!