Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (1979)

So I've been on this foolish album-a-day kick for about three months now, and there were certain artists that I knew from day one I'd be writing about soon enough but have been putting off.  With Elvis, the problem is I just don't know where to start.  With most of my favorite artists, who often have many albums I adore and treasure, I can ultimately pick a single favorite album (i.e. Abbey Road, Murmur).  But there are a few -- Neil Young is another, maybe Bowie -- where it just depends on my mood or the day of the week you ask.

Elvis' initial run of a half dozen albums from 1977-1982 (excluding maybe his country side-track) was just stellar, not a bum note.  (Which is not to say he hasn't continued to release great music since then -- he certainly has -- but it's that first half decade which continues to stun with its brilliance.)

So, no, I can't pick just one, and am more or less settling somewhat randomly on Armed Forces.

Like each of these early albums, there are maybe a half dozen simply perfect songs, and then a bunch which are merely great.  The perfect ones here?  Obviously his album-closing cover of Nick Lowe's "Peace, Love & Understanding" is the stand-out.  I've got nothing against the original that Lowe (who produced Armed Forces) recorded with Brinsley Schwarz, but Elvis's version shows what it is that makes the Attractions more than just a backing band; they take Lowe's chiming 3-chord power pop song and make it a monster.  The drums alone make it worth buying the album. 

But you've also got opening track "Accidents Will Happen," a complex, baroque pop track extraordinaire (and similarly ambitious "Busy Bodies"); deceptively chipper anti-war anthem "Oliver's Army"; compellingly restrained marvel "Green Shirt"; and aggressive "Goon Squad," a bit of a throwback to the angrier Elvis of his prior albums.  Maybe there's a bit of a slowdown on the latter half of the album, but it's a pretty solid package. 

But, then again, so is the first album.  And Get Happy.  And...

Anyway, here's some Peace and Love:
...and the video for "Oliver's Army":
And how about a great live take on "Accidents Will Happen":