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Elvis Costello And The Attractions Get Happy!! Review

Album. Released 1980.  

BBC Review

Elvis' greatest album. Filled with the bitterest soul stew ever ...

Chris Jones 2008

During the Attractions' tour of the States in 1979 Elvis Costello famously became embroiled in a drunken spat with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett in a hotel bar. Not content with calling Stills 'old steel nose' he also, in typically irascible fashion then decided to really get up their noses by declaring that Ray Charles was 'blind, ignorant n***er'. One shame-faced public apology later, the former Declan MacManus then went on to record an album dripping with…soul. To this day he declares that it was a coincidence, and maybe too much has been made of it in retrospective. Yet it's undeniable that, following three albums of Farfisa-driven new wave, Get Happy!! is the first sign that Elvis was bored and longing to move onto stylistic pastures new. It was also a very palpable career highlight.

The title is, naturally, ironic. Get Happy!! takes Costello's previous subjects of betrayal, infidelity, jealousy and spite and twists the knife even harder. The only difference is that the Attractions angular, muscular attack is here leavened with a whole heap of soul stew. Having already attempted much of this material in their signature style, Costello realised they needed a fresh approach. Spotted leaving a London record store with armfuls of classic Stax and Motown sides, he did his homework.

Repairing to Holland for a change of air, the band come on like Booker T and The MGs on speed (Temptation is basically Time Is Tight with lyrics). They even cover Sam and Dave's I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down. In this mode Elvis' barbs come coated with a swinging '60s sheen that really wrong-foots the listener. Songs like Love For Tender, Beaten To The Punch and High Fidelity whiz past (the album on vinyl fairly burst at the seams with 20 tracks, most under two and a half minutes long) almost before you realise how bitter they are.

A year of hard touring and abuse had also
turned Elvis' voice into a far more emotive tool. The closer, Riot Act drips with weary resignation (''Forever doesn’t mean forever any more…''). Housed in a spoof retro sleeve and with producer Nick Lowe piling on the reverb - the '60s pastiche was complete. Yet to this day Costello has rarely bettered this material. Even though it signalled the self-styled 'Imposter''s move towards somewhat suspect stylistic dilettantism (soon to follow was his country album, Almost Blue) Get Happy!! can still be considered the greatest coherent statement he ever created.

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