Classic Album Reviews: Elvis Costello and the Attractions — This Year’s Model (1978)

My momma has always said that if your nom de punk includes the name Elvis, you better have the songs to back it up. After the solid debut of My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello was determined to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump so Elvis came out with both guns ablazin’ in this 1978 release and it is just as furious and fierce as anything the Clash were putting out at the time which is not bad considering that it’s most memorable instrument is a Farfisa Organ. In short, Elvis Costello did have the songs worthy of his name.

From its opening line of “I don’t wanna kiss you, I don’t wanna touch….. you” to the slamming “radio radio!" that closes the album, Elvis is spittin’ mad as his serpent’s tongue spews out song after song about fashion, relationships, and modern radio. Musically the album is spare with guitar, bass, that wonderful organ, and a simple drum backing. It’s Elvis’ first album with the Attraction and they provide nice background vocals and a tight midsection. Very little overdubs or studio tricks here. This album is lean, muscular, and cutting. And I loved every second of it.

When Elvis Costello made that famous SNL appearance in late 1977 I was watching at a friend’s house with his mom. Here comes Elvis with the nerdy Buddy Holly glasses, tight jeans, and a spastic, frantic stage presence playing Pump It Up. My friend’s mom thought it was a skit and was incredulous when we told her that no it was a real act. Later during the second song when Elvis stopped the first few bars of Less Than Zero and played Radio Radio instead, I was hooked. Unfortunately it took me a couple more years to finally buy this album. When I switched over to CD’s it was one of the first CD’s I ever bought. I probably have played it at least once a month for some 30 years and never get sick of it. Whatever other musical genre I was currently into, whether it be punk, country, folk, jazz, old school rock and roll, Gregorian chant, sea shanty’s, etc., This Year’s Model has always been there.

Radio Radio of course is a favorite. I saw Elvis Costello play at the Myth nightclub a few years back and he played this song perfectly.   Costello has probably played this song thousands of times over the past 30 years and to still just lay it down with such fury and conviction was just incredible. Unfortunately part of the reason may be that its words ring more true today than they did in 1978. Can you think of a verse that describes today’s commercial radio any better than this:

You either shut up or get cut up/They don't wanna hear about it/It's only inches on the reel-to-reel/And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools/Tryin' to anaesthetize the way that you feel!

For that line alone, This Year’s Model is deservedly a classic album and worthy of a place on your turntable, discplayer, Ipod, or Spotify playlist.

3 thoughts on “Classic Album Reviews: Elvis Costello and the Attractions — This Year’s Model (1978)”

  1. Great pick. I just recently started listening to him beyond the hits. It was something I had always meant to do but had just never gotten around to. This album helped that transition from casual fan to fan

  2. About 10 years ago, I only knew Elvis Costello because I liked the song 'Veronica' when I was growing up, and a lot of Weezer I hung out on the internet with adored him. But then one day I heard 'Pump It Up' on one of those all music/just a black screen with just artist channel info that you get on your cable package. I was instantly hooked on that song and I needed more from this artist so I bought 'This Year's Model'. WOW...I was just blow away by it. How could I have gone 20 years of my life never hearing songs like 'The Beat' 'Radio Radio' and 'Lip Service'? This Year's Model got about 100 plays in about a month. I would tell anyone that would listen to me that you needed to listen to this album. I went out and bought more Costello albums* and enjoyed and loved them, some more (I still cant go a couple of weeks without listening to Armed Forces) some a little less than This Years Model.

    *How great of a run did Costello have to start his career? My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!, and maybe Trust gets thrown in there. Amazing.

  3. *How great of a run did Costello have to start his career? My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!, and maybe Trust gets thrown in there. Amazing.

    I almost included this very line in my review but decided to focus solely on the album. But yes I agree. I'd throw in Imperial Bedroom too. Also, the re-releases of these albums with the bonus tracks are a must have, including the 50(!) song Get Happy! disc.

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