Tag Archives: The Attractions

Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Armed Forces [Super Deluxe Edition]

Here’s the ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ big box set I’d been waiting for. From the guy who I originally panned when reviewing his first two albums for my junior high school “newspaper,” Armed Forces – the 1979 album has passed its 40th birthday – still stands as a monumental new wave LP. In fact, calling it new wave almost denigrates it. The fact of the matter is, many record labels were looking for acts with that “edgy,” “sharp,” “barbed” sound after EC and his Attractions dropped this bombshell on the ears of those who were searching for something beyond the usual rock.

Dubbed “The Complete Armed Forces,” this behemoth includes LPs, EPs, 7″ singles and booklets galore in a large clamshell box adorned with the original US album cover on the outside (which was actually on the inside of the UK/European versions) and the UK/European front cover on the inside (which was on the back of the US version), all of which was designed by the magnificent Barney Bubbles. The 12″ assortment includes the original Armed Forces in a 13-track version that incorporates both the US and UK track listings (in the very cool origami-like unfolding cover of the foreign versions), a Live at Hollywood High and Beyond album (half of the tracks that appeared on a 2010 CD of the entire concert but considerably more than the three that appeared on the 7″ EP included with the original album), and a blistering ’79 concert recorded at the Pink Pop Festival in the Netherlands. EP-wise – all 10″ vinyl – you get an 8-song volume called Sketches for Emotional Fascism (most of which have appeared on previous Costello releases), a 6-song concert recorded in Australia (Riot at the Regent, quite good but too short!), and a 4-songer called Christmas in the Dominion which is also way too short. The singles feature original artwork for three 7″ releases, but the B-sides aren’t always the same as on the originals (except on one where it is!). Maddening! And the sleeve for “Accidents Will Happen,” which was originally cleverly printed inside-out (as in, “accidents will happen!”), is printed right-side-out, which at least gives you the chance to see what the whole thing looked like without having to take the sleeve apart. As for the “booklets galore,” these are all designed to look like old comic books, pulp fiction novels and other pre-1979 printed materials, with insides that include Elvis’s notes on the songs and their geneses, his handwritten lyrics as they appeared in his notebooks, etc., and all the credits for this humongous undertaking. In all, it’s a shitload of Costello music and ephemera that is going to be way too much for most people but not enough for many of the rest of us.

I think, in all, this “complete” Armed Forces is pretty fabulous. The sound quality is the best yet for the core album (my opinion, even better than the MoFi pressing) and the live concerts sound brilliant. I do wish the Riot at the Regent and Christmas in the Dominion records contained the complete concerts (future marketing opportunities!), but I can handle those coming out separately later on. This box itself is awfully expensive ($200 for the black vinyl version, $260 for the color vinyl) but is likely to come down in price. And if it’s just the music you want, you can find that available as high resolution downloads online. But if you like your box sets in the extravagant variety (not exactly punk rock, but, hey, whatever) then this is one you should have in your armory. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (UMe B0031761-01, 2020)

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Elvis Costello • Taking Liberties [LP]

Welcome back, me! Took some time off to get my head sorted out (thanks Mike, Dan, Sarah, Kelli, Jesus, et al.) and now I’m about to take some liberties with this.

elvis_takinglibertiesELVIS COSTELLO’s Taking Liberties was a 1980 compilation put out by Columbia Records here in the States to bring together 20 tunes that had escaped US ears. From his first album through his fourth (Get Happy!!, earlier in ’80), EC and the Attractions had released numerous B-sides, soundtrack tunes and various other recordings and his US label wisely issued them on one piece of vinyl.

When I discovered Taking Liberties it was the answer to my (17-year old) prayers! No more scouring my local record shop for costly import singles, no more writing to shops in NYC that I found in the back pages of Trouser Press or NY Rocker for singles they’d probably already sold out of… Now I had an hour of rarities that I could listen to over and over and not wear out the way singles inevitably would. The cover, suitably, showed Elvis outside of an American telephone booth (instead of a red British one), ostensibly writing the album’s title across the cover. Clever. On the back was a note from the record label’s A&R guy telling us of the variety of types of songs that were inside and how “the fabulous Attractions add a fiery vigor to many of Elvis’s numbers.” Inside, the inner sleeve gave up all the info about the songs and where they could originally be found – a handy reference in the pre-Internet and Wikipedia days! The record itself had a parody of Columbia’s old labels, and that was cool, too.

takingliberties-label

The original side one label for Taking Liberties was a parody of those found on Columbia’s old 78s.

Luckily, the music on Taking Liberties was as exciting as the presentation. All kinds of great songs were on it, from rockers like “Clean Money” and “Big Tears” to moody outings like “Hoover Factory” and “Ghost Train.” And the Attractions never let me down, either, really digging in to “Tiny Steps,” “Crawling to the U.S.A.” and many more. I can’t tell you how much this album meant to me! It was like a second volume of Get Happy!!, which also had 20 songs on it. That’s 40 new songs in one year. Crikey!

This reissue comes from Universal Music, where Elvis currently licenses his earlier works, and it sounds quite good. I can hear all kinds of things in the songs that the kinda crappy-sounding original masked. I think once the initial crackles that come with a new record rid theirselves of my vinyl I’ll be even happier. As the original liner note sums up, “Elvis clearly demonstrates here that his potential and versatility are practically unlimited.” Well said, Gregg Geller, wherever you are.

5/5 (UMe/Universal)

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Trust [LP]

elviscostello-trust-frontMobile Fidelity entered the world of audiophile vinyl back in the late ’70s with their “half speed mastered” pressings of popular rock, jazz and classical albums. These days they don’t mention the half speed bit, but they do note their “Gain 2 Ultra Analog System,” which is their current technology for bringing to us “the most accurate sonic reproductions possible.” Their recent issue of ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ 1981 LP, Trust, is on the platter today.

Strangely, this album was issued out of sequence. MoFi started releasing EC’s albums in their current Original Master Recording™ format a few years ago in their original chronological order, starting with ’77’s My Aim Is True and running all the way up through ’84’s Goodbye Cruel World, but skipping Trust until now. I actually wrote the company about this when they went straight from Almost Blue to Imperial Bedroom – WTF? – and their answer was your typical non-committal reply. Regardless, it’s here now and I’m really enjoying it. By 1981 Costello had mastered his then strong suit of writing clever, biting lyrics and the Attractions had honed their ability to communicate his songs with power and sometimes restraint to a fine point. Trust, produced by Nick Lowe with Roger Bechirian, contains great songs that cover all of Costello’s categories: hard power pop like “From a Whisper to a Scream,” film noir-like leadoff track “Clubland,” and solo piano courtesy of Steve Nieve on “Shot with His Own Gun.” As always up until that point, the rhythm elviscostello-trust-rearsection of non-brothers Pete Thomas (drums) and Bruce Thomas (bass) serves the songs so well it’s pretty amazing that the songs don’t get credited to the whole band. Oh, don’t get Elvis started on that! (I’m curious if he addresses any of this in his new autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.) I think, despite favoring Armed Forces for years as my favorite EC&A album, that Trust actually covers more ground.

This reissue, as noted above, is a Mobile Fidelity release and as you might expect should sound better than the original. Once again, I don’t have a first-issue US or UK vinyl version to compare it to, but it’s a sure bet that this MoFi release is miles better than the original 1981 Columbia (US) pressing. It’s definitely better than the early 2000s Rhino CD, with a wide soundscape that allows all the different elements to sparkle and stand out – occasionally a little too much, like with the cymbals and high-hats of “New Lace Sleeves” or “Lovers Walk,” though those toned down after repeated listening. Thomas’ drums explode on the songs where they should, as does (the other) Thomas’ bass, which represents some of his best playing ever. I hope you’ll, ummmm, trust me when I say this is a classic album and should be in your collection.
4/5 (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

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