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July 3, 2007

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!

Filed under: Hype,Music — cabinet @ 7:03 pm

[Rhino; 1980]

Get Happy!! is not Elvis Costello’s most critically lauded album, nor is it considered a classic to most. It’s also not his breakout album, nor the album for a listener new to Costello to listen to first. What is it then? Well, it’s probably his most incredible, creative, and homage-laden album to date. Bringing together the tight rhythms of some of Motown and Stax’s greatest singles, Costello crafted an intricate 20 songs bent on reliving the past with one eye on the new decade. Though the album is Costello’s most lyrically difficult album, it is one of his greatest.

The record begins with a bouncy piano riff instead of the hallmark a cappella voice that led off each album prior to Get Happy!!. This intro marks the beginning of ‘Love for Tender’, actually a reworking of ‘Clean Money’, an unreleased track that can be found on the bonus disc of the Rhino reissue of Armed Forces. The playful organ paired with Costello’s cynical sneer create a danceable tour de force, but it’s all over too soon. The next song quickly comes in on a somewhat reduced tempo. The bubbling bass of ‘Opportunity’ definitely harks back to the motown records of the sixties.

The third song on Get Happy!! is a rollicking number entitled ‘The Imposter’, and it is one of the album’s standout tracks, clocking in at a towering 1:58. The soaring organ blazes a path for the sing-along chorus, and again, like the album’s opener, is quickly shut off.

Now, to increase the brevity of this article, we can now look to the middle of the album, the section this author has playfully christened ‘the singles section’, for it is from this portion all three singles lifted from the album appear one after another, offering a one-two… and then third, punch.

‘New Amsterdam’ is actually the first song Costello recorded without the Attractions since his first LP, My Aim Is True. It is also the slowest and most melancholy of his compositions up to this point.

‘High Fidelity’ portrays a sort of world-weary feel as Costello’s voice seems to be a little sore. The playful piano and organ fills indicate a more optimistic message, whereas the lyrics tell of a relationship gone to the dumps.

‘I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’ has “single” written all over it. It embodies the ultimate feel of the album and all without even being penned by Elvis himself! The true motown vibe of the song allows the listener to get a feel for what Costello ultimately wanted to create: a through and through R&B album. Though with his obvious vocal discrepancies and more violent approach to lyric and music writing he created something entirely different and altogether more interesting.

‘Motel Matches’, a harrowing and subdued country-esque ballad, seems out of place amid the fast-paced, punk-fuelled R&B numbers encircling it, but is a welcome rest from the sheer energy of the rest of the album. The lyrics obviously recount one of Costello’s many sexual encounters with women other than his own wife. However, the content is so vague and cryptic that it is difficult to decipher the exact content of the love affair.

The closing numbers, ‘I Stand Accused’ and ‘Riot Act’, are late album standouts. ‘I Stand Accused’ is an amped up R&B standard, a song originally written by Tony Colton & Ray Smith. Along with ‘I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’, it imbues more fully the sound Costello desired to create. The great harmonica solo on the middle-eight makes for even more of a pastiche of the 60’s motown sound. The song stands as one of Costello’s greatest and most overlooked performances.

And then, ‘Riot Act’, the curtain call to a fabulous 48 minutes of music. The arpeggios marking the piano and organ lines, the slow-burning tempo, the coo-to-shout aesthetic of Costello’s vocal performance all make for a great closer to Elvis Costello’s most poignant artistic statement.

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