Elvis Costello / Armed Forces

Fan Post by Thomas Bedenbaugh


Whenever I hear Elvis Costello, I almost immediately think of growing up and hearing my mom play his songs. Or hearing him on the radio while driving around with my parents.  My mom is still a really big Elvis Costello fan.

I remember very vividly hearing songs like “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and “Veronica” and having the melodies stuck in my head for days.  What always really fascinated me about him was how out of place he seemed for his time: I mean, here’s a British guy born “Declan MacManus” who decides to rename himself “Elvis” and dress like Buddy Holly at the same time as the Sex Pistols are trying to tear down pretty much everything that came before them. Where bands like Talking Heads are fusing funk with post-punk and The Cure are discovering that synths don’t have to sound sad all the time, even in the broader context of new-wave, he seems like a misfit.

But even if he seems like an oddball he does have one thing in common with Buddy Holly, Talking Heads, and The Cure: he knew how to write a fantastic hook. And Armed Forces was probably his catchiest album up until that point. Granted, My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model are amazing albums with a rawness that make the songs so much more punk in attitude. But on Armed Forces the punk ethos comes through in the lyrics, and the songs on this album range from the politically charged (“Oliver’s Army” and “Sunday Best”) to love songs with an ironic twist (“Party Girl”).  

Hiding beneath the more polished sound of the songs was the same cleverly subversive songwriter from the first two albums. His calculated silliness and his heartfelt pleas for peace, love, and understanding remaining constant here and throughout the rest of his career.  Elvis Costello was always a bit of an anomaly but he sums it up nicely at the beginning of “Big Boys”: “Everything is provocative/Very, very temporary”.

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