Sunday, March 2, 2008

Armed Elvis


Some of the best music listening I do is when I’m waiting for the train.

After going to the Brooklyn Rail to help my girlfriend Nadia (and by help, I mean being on the computer the whole time), we left around 11:30 p.m., and I proceeded to get dropped off at a L Train Station in Brooklyn, while Nadia got a chauffeured car ride back to her house in Queens.

As it was late, I knew it was going to be awhile until the L got there, so I settled in, leaned against a railing and proceeded to pump up the Elvis Costello—specifically Armed Forces, an album I hadn’t listened to in full in some time.

Why that is I have no because it’s an excellent album, right up there with Costello’s other great albums, This Year’s Model, My Aim is True and Get Happy!! (When you think about it, Costello’s first four albums might be the greatest first-four in the history of music. I mean, who else has a better start? Dylan? No. Beatles? No. The closest I can think of is Springsteen with Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, the Innocent & the E-Street Shuffle, Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town).

I didn’t listen to all of Armed because I had listened to “Accidents Will Happen” and “Oliver’s Army” a few days before, so I went straight to “Party Girl,” which is followed “Goon Squad,” “Busy Bodies,” “Sunday’s Best” and then I went straight to “Chemisty Class and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

None of those songs sounds very tough to play (on the subway, I was drumming with my index and middle fingers to the drum beats of the songs, and actually doing a pretty good job), but Costello’s voice just sounds so fantastic and the songs are really catchy.

But although catchy, the album is really dark, as shown in some of these verses:

You've got a chemistry class, I want a piece of your mind
You don't know what you started when you mixed it up with mine
Are you ready for the final solution?


There was a checkpoint Charlie
He didn't crack a smile
But it's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile
Only takes one itchy trigger
One more widow, one less white nigger


I was stuck on a hammerhead
I came alive and left for dead
As my face returned to red
Choking on my pride and pity
Don't look now under the bed
An arm, a leg and a severed head
Read about the private lives
The songs of praise, the readers' wives
Listen to the decent people
Though you treat them just like sheep
Put them all in boots and khaki
Blame it all upon the darkies


But also very funny:

Never said I was a stool pigeon
I never said I was a diplomat
Everybody is under suspicion
But you don't wanna hear about that


And some are just haunting:

Better send a begging letter to the big investigation
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?


I never give enough credit to Costello, who has released other good albums outside of the four aforementioned ones (King of America and Imperial Bedroom come to mind), but he does deserve loads of credit, if only just for making something as perfect as Armed Forces.

And keeping me company while waiting for the L Train.

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