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March 21, 1980 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-03-21

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Diversity Club NER/EEA
Tickets - $6.00 on sale now at
Mich. Union Box Office, Schoolkids
nd Discount Records into 763-2071 1


If Bruce Springsteen is rock's
greatest storyteller, then Elvis Costello
is most certainly its greatest kibitzer.
On all his records this man has been
alternately disillusioned and hopeful,
angry and resigned, off-handed com-
plimentary and an outiright critic,
and, for my money at least, the most
vital songwriter in rock music today.
It's awesome to think of the level of
maturity reached with Get Happy!!,
only the fourth album by Costello and
his band, The Attractions. On Get Hap-
py!! Costello further plays with
metaphors, perhaps more deftly than
on his prior outings, slipping his
messages through neatly and seduc-
tively, yet hitting the listener squarely
betwen the eyes (ears?) so as not to
allow one brief moment of respite from
his badgering visions.
But: packaging first. Costello's
albums have been notoriously outlan-
dish and confusing; Get Happy!! is no
exception. In fact, if the record-buying
public bought solely on package attrac-
tiveness, Costello's records would surely
be in the cutout bins by now. Get
Happ's!! garish mixup of orange,
lavendar, and green initially made me
want to leave it in the record store's
bag. I'm almost disappointed it doesn't
glow in the dark (musically, maybe.
Visually, nah). But once out of the bag

there are interesting tidbits to be
found: 20 tracks, 10 per side, most
around the two-and-a-half minute
mark. The packaging is pure early 60's
sparseness. And Elvis reverses the or-
der of songs from jacket to wax, so that
side one on the jacket ends up as side
two on the record, and vice versa.
Cute, huh?
LONG-TIME producer Nick Lowe's
liner note convinves us that Get Hap-
py!! does not suffer from "groove
cramming" and a resultant loss of
sound quality. This is true, although the
album's mix does succumb to a rivalry
between Elvis' vocals and the level of.
his band playing. "Five Gears In
Reverse" and "Beaten To The Punch"
are mix nightmares, wherein The At-
tractions nearly overpower Costello's
lyrics, which are never than easy to
decipher anyway.
Get Happy!! is, for the most part, a
revival of the joyous jump music of the
'50's and '60's, a reverent nod to the
Stax-Motown era (in Elvis' covers of "I
Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and
"I Stand Accused"), and I almost
suspect if this album isn't in some way
a belated apology for Elvis' barroom
quip "Ray Charles is a blind, ignorant
nigger" made in early 1979 (whereupon
singer Bonnie Bramlett knocked both
his glasses and his pride to the floor).
Elvis hints at 'gospel on "Motel Mat-
ches" and "Secondary Modern" (which
practically yearn for a black female
backup) and at R & B in "Temptation"
and "B Movie". And throughout I hear
the '60's fun schlock that made tunes
like the Grass Roots' "Midnight Con-
fession" such classics.
But it is only thrugh his use of
metaphor that Costello gets away
with such revival in this age of New
Wave. "Love For Tender" finds Elvis
squealing "I pay you a compliment/and
you think I-am innocent/You can total
up the balance sheet/and never know if
I'm a counterFEET! ". He compares
love to such an ordinary, dispensible



item as "Motel Matches": "falliri' out
of your open pocketbook/givin' you
away like motel matches".
COSTELLO'S songs have always
taken a dim view of women and
relationships, partly because he takes
both for granted and won't expend
energy to build or maintain affection.
His relationships seem to fall into his
lap, and its arguable whether or not
Elvis admires or resents this. On This
Year's Model he growled "I don't want
to be your lover/I just want to be your
victim!" Throughout Get Happy!!
Costello remains aloof, cautious, and
biting: "I could almost swear/I could
promise that I'd always be true to
you/But we may not live to be so old"
and, further on, "I'm fickle in the face
of your affection" ("Man Called Un-
cle"). Love is skin to battle in "Oppor-
tunity": "I'm in a foxhole/I'm down in
the trench/I'd be a hero but I can't
stand the stench". He is a "victim of
circumstance" in "I Stand Accused".
By his subtlety, Elvis is a more effec-
tive misogynist than The Knack's Doug
Fieger., And, yet, for all his in-
decisiveness, Costello is sure of one
thing: He's just as good as (or bettera
than) any other guy after his woman.
"The Imposter", perhaps the only song
-on Get Happy!! that isn't long enough,,
is in this Graham parkerish "you-
don't-want-him-you- really-want-me"'
Though Elvis' three previous slbums
found a wide British audience where
the allusions to England's political,

~ 0
turmoil were understood, Get Happy!i
may be more accessible to U.S.
listeners because it is relatively
apolitical. Costello has quit bitching
about Churchill, South Africa, the BBC,
and the low-life working class, and has
moved on from wallowing in his
nobody's paying any attention to me'
self-pity. After all, The Clash is giving
us that now. What keeps Elvis Costello
and Get Happy!! attractive is not so
much Elvis' insights, which are im-
poratnt enough, as the music which is
their backdrop. Costello is most skilled
when lightheartedly passing off such
profundity as "everybody's hiding un-
der covers/Who's making Lover's Lane
safe again for lovers?" while the organ
chirps up roller rink riffs in "Clown-
time Is Over." On first listen, it seems
as if the sugary '60's pop treatment
(complete with tambourines and
whooshes of piano and Farfisa) under-
mines the lyrics when, in fact, it enhan-V
ces Costello's contrariness.
A recent review of Get Happy!! in
New York's Village Voice criticized
Costello- for "cooling out", suggesting
that the meanest guy in rock "doesn't
bite, doesn't sneer". Though he may
have lost his apoliticalness on this
album, he admits, aftera machine gun
guitar intro on "King Horse", that he is
caught "between tenderness and brute
force". This is mellowing? From theE
'60's production and packaging, right
down to the double exclamation marks
of the album's title, Get Happy!!
proves that Costello is merely feeling his


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