Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Punch the Clock
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
I really don’t know anything about Elvis Costello’s career. I know Burt Bacharach is in there in these latter days at some point. Maybe? I don’t even know. Maybe some collaborations with some quartets? I really only know this based on CDs I’ve priced at work. It’s weird though, given my compulsion with painstakingly (lie) tracking down information about artists I fall in love with. This was especially true when I was like 16 or 17 and got My Aim is True from the Indian Creek Branch of the Lawrence Public Library and had one of those moments that were coming day after day when I was 16 or 17. And then This Years Model fell into my lap when I was 20 and Armed Forces when I was 23 and then I kind of quit after that (though I own a copy of Armed Forces, I’ve only ever listened to that album like twice, and expressly for the purpose of this blog, which by-the-way I should revisit that one yes). But I saw this one at HPB and suddenly it ended up at home with me. Probably because it has “Shipbuilding” on it, which if I remember correctly was on the High Fidelity soundtrack, which I totally remember I listened to in excess when that movie was my favorite movie of all time.* It’s four albums removed from the Armed Forces, and there’s a whole lot of evolution I’m missing but fortunately, Costello is one of those fine fine artists who can totally maintain the essence of his sound/style no matter how the times (read: cheesy 80s production) change. The gloss on this album is as shiny as a freshly printed mid-80s glamour shot, and though this album is almost 30 years old, it doesn’t look nearly as cheesy as it should if we’re still running with that kind of poor glamour shot metaphor (since in my head, the soft focus of glamour shots would lend it self to matte photo paper but I really have no idea). So Punch the Clock, a glossy album that somehow manages to not be super-cheesy because Costello is a consummate artist who knows what the fuck he is doing at all times and he’s maybe one of the more bulletproof songwriters in the business (though having heard four of his albums, I could be totally missing something, and I feel like maybe there’s a Thrill of Discovery project in here…). “Shipbuilding” is an immediate standout, though I don’t really remember it despite listening to that High Fidelity soundtrack like a million times. Also, speaking of “Shipbuilding,” foregoing the commonplace 80s sax solo for a Chet Baker trumpet solo = a total fucking ace in my book. There’s a whole mood in that song that is like whisky and smoke filled rooms. It’s about the Falklands War, too, apparently, which is a +1 because how many songs can you think of about the Falklands War? Oh yeah, and “Every Day I Write the Book” is on this album, and I forgot to mention how great that song is and how it exemplifies how this album plays with those very dangerous mid-80s cheeseball tropes and how Costello totally makes them work. Sure, there are moments where the 80s grease seeps through the napkin, but it’s nowhere near as bad (not even by a mile) as when Springsteen does it.