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Articles Home » 1979 Articles » Costello, Elvis (And The Attractions) - 1979 Armed Forces
Costello, Elvis (And The Attractions) - 1979 Armed Forces

ARTIST: Costello, Elvis (And The Attractions)
ALBUM: Armed Forces
LABEL: Radar
YEAR: 1979
CD REISSUE: 1993, Rykodisc, RCD 20273 * 2002, Rhino, R2 78190 * 2007, Hip-O, B0008630-02


LINEUP: Elvis Costello - guitar, vocals * Steve Nieve - keyboards * Bruce Thomas - bass * Pete Thomas - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Accidents Will Happen * 02 Senior Service * 03 Oliver's Army * 04 Big Boys * 05 Green Shirt * 06 Party Girl * 07 Goon Squad * 08 Busy Bodies * 09 Sunday's Best * 10 Moods For Moderns * 11 Chemistry Class * 12 Two Little Hitler's * 13 (What's So Funny 'Bout) Love And Understanding?


Is Elvis Costello a little bit too left field for GDM? Well an album that contains melody, heartbreak, beautiful hooks, all that makes up a great AOR album? Well of course this isn't, this is an album that has all those qualities but coming from a distinct different direction but an album that I put in my favourites alongside the more expected Journey, Boston, Queen and Dio deliveries. I have some very early memories of this album, my father brought it back in 1979, I would imagine on the back of the single success of 'Oliver's Army' no doubt. I do remember playing it myself on my old Garrard record player, but over the years the copy was lost, or offloaded to a charity shop. The UK issue has one of the most striking covers, pictures of elephants seem to be the usual fare dawning the walls of 70's houses, we had two, and in fact one of these appeared in a well know council flat in Peckham! The US version came in a less appealing and more abstract cover. A great companion read to help you discover Elvis's career and discography is a book by Graeme Thomson called 'Complicated Shadows', even though it had no input from the man himself, it was a pretty honest read and made me go off and search out more albums by Mr Costello.

The Songs
Of course the two songs that are instantly recognisable are the number 2 UK hit, 'Oliver's Army' (I was convinced it would go to number 1) and the delightful 'Accidents Will Happen', which I was also equally convinced had the lyric 'but only in love', when actually it says 'another hit and run', I favour my version. But at the time, being a young 10 year old, (and without a lyric sheet) I'm afraid most of the other tracks passed me by, my musical appreciation at the time must have been still forming. What Toto did with 'Kilimanjaro', Elvis does it with 'Johannesburg', 'Oliver's Army' is probably Elvis's 3 minutes of his entitled 15 minutes of fame in most people's eyes. I still get excited listening to this, trying to catch all the little stories contained here and tracing the lyrics in my head, but there is always a point where I either misquote or get tangled up and fall outside the lines. Just excellent. There is so much contained in these 'short' songs, they jump around the page, each verse, each chorus, each pre chorus almost seen to have barely anything in common with each other, but Costello pins it all together and smoothes over the gaps to leave a seamless finish, this can be defined in 'Senior Service', which has nothing to do with the brand of cigarettes my grandmother used to smoke! Let's not forget the Attractions, actually this being the first time their collective name appears on the album cover, especially the touches of greatness of Steve Nieve on piano, the bass thundering of Bruce Thomas in 'Goon Squad' which has a Billy Sheehan personality and Bill faces competition from an unlikely source for the best 4 stringer in the west.

There are so many great tunes found here, probably the best being the musical fabric that is 'Green Shirt', no ironing is required to straighten out this song, possibly one of my favourite Costello tracks, destined never to appear on any best of collection. Lyrically this album is perfect, how anyone can twist the English language into numerous seemingly dead ends but manages every time to avoid finishing up in a literary cul de sac. If you type the lyrics, the number of words and sentences underlined in green are astonishing but these perceived imperfections are what make the tunes so appealing. Even when Elvis slows it down, he still manages to maintain the energy, the passion displayed with 'Party Girl' is a perfect example, it's very strange, and it also maintains a firm grip on the instruments. The punk aspect and thrusting of 'Goon Squad' with its threats of 'But you'll never get to make a lampshade out of me', the basics of 'Big Boys' with the sailing streams of Mr Nieve. Back to the pop majesty of 'Busy Bodies', the key elements being the lyric 'Caught in the concertina' or maybe the pre chorus which is appointed excellence, or even the guitar riff much like Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman', this has enough of these elements for its own periodic table. Ok, some tracks don't always hit the bullseye, in fact they only land in the green bed that adds 25 to your dart score, like 'Sunday's Best' and the similar sounding 'Moods For Moderns' although this is more palatable. 'Chemistry Class' is a better solution as this ducks and dives, it's smoother to the taste and no way are you left with a acid aftertaste. The sarcasm that touches slightly on the vocal tones is on show as Steve's piano seems to convey an image of the piano falling down a hill, with all flailing arms and legs trying to catch it, while 'Two Little Hitler's' is a lightweight melodic jog around the park. Although appearing on the re-issues and I would imagine the USA version but not the original UK version is '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Love And Understanding'.. amazing, just pump (it up!). This manages to grab the radio (radio!) audience in one swoop, least we not forget this was actually written by long-time producer for Costello; Nick Lowe.

In Summary
I usually hate best of collections, but if you are still wary of Mr C, then it is worth picking up a good collection, which are pretty cheap, because it will open your ears to the likes of 'A Man Out Of Time', 'High Fidelity', 'Shipbuilding' I could go on. Elvis continued to spit out albums at an incredible rate. Some contain excellent tracks alongside some headache tunes, but it's fun sorting out sometimes what you like and don't like about them, but it doesn't stop you listening to them. Sit back pour yourself a glass of lemonade, preferably the brand of R Whites (anybody remember the connection to the 70's advert?) and enjoy the songs like bubbles popping up your nose heading to your brain.

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#1 | Explorer on April 19 2014 07:28:20
Elvis's dad is the connection I believe.With regards to his music, an acquired taste,but I love his country album 'Almost blue' and 'This year's model' is also very good.A welcome addition to Glorydaze.
#2 | richardb on April 19 2014 20:29:01
I'm a big fan of the man, so nothing wrong with his inclusion on this site methinks.

Thumbs Up
#3 | englandashes on April 19 2014 22:18:29
Yep, Declan and his father Ross recorded and wrote the jingle for the R.Whites lemonade advert, Secret Lemonade Drinker, Ross sang the vocals, with Declan on backing, still a classic jingle and advert. It was Declan's first ever recording!
#4 | gdazegod on April 19 2014 22:36:07
It's a great album cover isn't it? From an era when thumbing through LP's in a record store was a pleasure..
#5 | AOR Lee on April 20 2014 08:29:43
I'm not an EC fan in the slightest, but still happy to see this well constructed review here. Might just get some people thinking. As to this artist being right or wrong for GDM, as far as I can see we've always celebrated various forms of melodia. As Malcolm said, a welcome inclusion
#6 | gdazegod on April 20 2014 13:48:04
Well.. to be fair, and I did say this to Chris, I had reservations about putting this up online.. common sense prevailed it would seem.
#7 | gdazegod on April 20 2014 13:48:49
As for the missus.. Diana Krall.. well that's a different story.. lol!
#8 | Eric on April 23 2014 00:27:52
A big album for me back then and was played a lot on the radio and at friend's houses etc, in fact my best friend in high school named his son Declan after you know who. The first 3 EC albums are his best work but he continues to push himself in other directions and is always interesting.

Elvis belongs here as much as other new wave/ power pop bands we've covered from the same era. As the review pointed out his songs are melodic, hooky and wonderful to be frank. The king of skinny tie pop and that's good enough for me. Nice review Chris!
#9 | jeffrey343 on April 24 2014 00:23:18
We have George Benson and Barry Manilow on here, so why not Elvis Costello? I can't say I was a big fan back in the day, though. I gave this a listen on Rhapsody today - not really my cup of tea. But I am a fan of his wife.
#10 | gdazegod on April 24 2014 01:05:39
Me too Jeff! [swoon..]
#11 | reyno-roxx on November 15 2015 14:49:02
Always liked the early singles, but only recently completed the man's Demon/Edsel 2CD set of back catalogue material due to refusing to pay silly prices. The early stuff is by far my favourite era, although his later 'The Delivery Man' album is pretty decent. Not sure I like the man himself though, having read a few books. Have yet to pick up his recently published own biography.
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