Friday, May 17, 2013

98. This Year's Model (1978) Elvis Costello

  1. No Action
  2. This Year's Girl
  3. The Beat
  4. Pump It Up
  5. Little Triggers
  6. You Belong to Me
  7. Hand in Hand
  8. (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea
  9. Lip Service
  10. Living in Paradise
  11. Lipstick Vogue
  12. Night Rally

Listening to this countdown has been an effective introduction to the career of Elvis Costello, an artist who I'd previously only had a passing acquaintance with. I've now heard all the albums people recommend and I can conclude I've got a real respect for the guy. He can write a tune and put together a good set of lyrics.

This Year's Model is his second album and the highest placed Costello release on the top 500. It's also got his best song in Pump It Up which is a fantastic three minutes of rock and roll. Pump it Up has a riff and a relentless beat which Costello uses as a base to rapidfire some lyrical phrases with some clever rhyming and his trademark word play. It's a great song and listening to it on repeat a few times I drove myself nuts trying to work out what it reminded me of. When Costello was rapid-rhyming there was another song that wandered through my head but would dance away whenever I tried to put my finger on what it was. Eventually I realised it was Wild Wild West by The Escape Club which was a big hit when I was 15 and would surely have had everyone who was 15 when this album came out crying "plagiarism" whenever it comes on. It's impossible to listen to Wild Wild West and not believe Pump it Up played a big part in the songwriting process.

The rest of This Year's Model doesn't quite live up to the highs of its lead single. It rocks when it's fast  but when it slows down it's not as effective. Little Triggers would be the album's lowpoint wherever it came on the album but straight after Pump it Up it's slightly lower still. Costello is such a misfit he's  at his best when he's not quite fitting into any kind of genre. I Don't Want to Go To Chelsea is clearly reggae influenced by it's too fast and rocks too hard for traditional reggae. It doesn't seem to know what it is and Costello clearly doesn't care and neither should you. It's a great song whatever it is you have to wonder what the American record label was thinking when they dropped it from the US release because it sounded "Too English". Idiots.

My main criticism of This Years Model is that the songs aren't really given enough time to breathe. They're mostly around the two or three minute mark and tend to launch straight into the vocals, hurtle through the verses and chorus and then end almost as soon as Costello's final lyric has died away. A bit of an introduction and coda along with an instrumental break somewhere in the middle might give the album a bit more impact and made some of the tracks a bit more memorable. But this was all recorded in 1978 when punk was king and nobody was playing solos anywhere on records. There were gangs of punks roaming recording studios searching for anyone who knew how to play anything more than three chords so they could safety-pin them to their amps and spit on their heads until they promised never to try and play a lead break again.

Elvis Costello definitely deserves to be more than just a blip on your musical radar. He's a real talent and his albums have a lot of hidden gems beyond the singles that were getting any airplay. Track him down and give him a listen

Here's Pump it Up for those that haven't heard it...

And for those who'd like a point of comparison here's Wild Wild West. Sound familiar?

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Pop rock at its late 70's heights shows a thinking man's Bruce Springsteen continuing to harness amazing energy and tight interplay out of proportion to many of his peers, furthering an already torrential amount of praise only after this sophomore release."

-I think you've just annoyed a legion of Springsteen fans.

So... this years model or yesterdays papers? Let me know below.


  1. There was at one point of time when I was obsessed with this album. I literally could not stop listening to it. In fact, I have listened to "No Action" over 60 times on my iTunes playlist (one of the highest). There is something so sharp about this album that it makes me giddy with pleasure whenever I listen to it.
    One of the greatest things about this album is the raw musicianship of The Attractions. The interplay between the drum and bass is phenomenal. They just add so much strength to the music. Also, I like the keyboard fills, as they add a really cool new wave texture. And, of course, Elvis Costello with his sardonic sneer is so oddly attractive and his songwriting is unparalleled.
    The pacing is also perfect; "No Action" is a perfect opening song to me (and actually Elvis has a way of opening albums strongly come to think of it). I just love it soooo much it's so melodic and I love the way the song opens with the quiet "I don't wanna kiss you/I don't wanna touch" and then it bursts right into the song.
    I actually like "Little Triggers." I just like the way it sounds.
    Also, I like "Lip Service," which for some reason sounds to me like a precursor to alternative rock, actually.
    And for sure I love "Radio Radio" and I think that is a perfect closer counterpart to "No Action."
    What I want to know specifically is what you personally think of "No Action" and "Lip Service," just out of curiosity.

    1. I really enjoy them both. I think Costello has a really rare ability to write strong songs and back them with good lyrics and then really capture an appropriate mood through the arrangement and performance. He's definitely someone who appreciates that songs are more than just pleasing ditties, they're works of art.