Elvis Costello • This Year's Model

Universal Music/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-330
Single 180-gram LP
1978/2010

Music

Sound

Elvis Costello • Armed Forces

Universal Music/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-331
Single 180-gram LP
1979/2010

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | October 21, 2010

his Year's Model and Armed Forces, Elvis Costello's second and third studio albums, preserved the sharp-tongued intelligence of his debut release, My Aim is True, but they began to plow new musical ground, thanks to the Attractions, Costello's new backing band. This was no collection of session players, no Clover, the band that played on My Aim is True. Bassist Bruce Thomas had been a member of the English ska outfit Madness, while drummer Pete Thomas was part of Squeeze, whose best work defined the very height of post-Beatles English pop. Keyboard player Steve Nieve was with both bands at different points. Collectively this trio brought a blistering melange of rock, pop and new wave to Costello's tightly crafted songs, spanning nearly a decade and Costello's very best albums. It's hard to imagine any of this music without them, so important were their contributions.

This Year's Model expanded on the punk sensibilities of My Aim is True; many of the tunes were written during the same period. The opener, "No Action," about old-girlfriend obsession, establishes a caustic theme and raucous, driving beat, both of which influence even the slower numbers, often fueled by Nieve's pulsing, searing keyboards. Armed Forces displays slicker production and the musical restlessness that Costello would cultivate throughout his career. It also has two of his biggest hits: the loping admonishment "Accidents Will Happen" and Nick Lowe's pop anthem "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," which was included on the US version of the album but not the one released in the UK.

For Armed Forces, Mobile Fidelity went with the UK cover design and US running order for side two, substituting "Peace, Love and Understanding" for "Sunday's Best." Both albums benefit greatly from MoFi's GAIN 2 system and half-speed mastering. The improved delineation of the rhythm section and throbbing of the keyboards give the music a more reckless feel. An early Columbia pressing of This Year's Model sounds chalky and distant in comparison to the MoFi pressing, and its surfaces are far noisier. All of Elvis Costello's albums have appeared on CD more than once, and the digital versions are all worth owning for the outtakes and demo cuts, which are often interesting and sometimes revealing of the songwriting process. However, none of the CDs sounds as tangible and vivid as these LPs.

Amidst the renaissance that vinyl continues to enjoy, these reissues, along with My Aim is True, shine brightly. If MoFi continues releasing Elvis Costello's catalog in chronological order, Get Happy!!, his homage to blue-eyed soul, should be up next.

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