Post-punk machine gun rock

By Paul Rigg

Building on My Aim is True and now teamed with the Attractions, Elvis Costello seemed to be moving at breakneck speed on his follow-up album, firing out catchy songs and spitting out acid lyrics, backed up by amphetamine-fueled music.    

On the barnstorming This Year’s Model (released 17 March 1978), produced by Nick Lowe, Costello took a pop at everyone from idiot macho-men to backstabbing lovers, and from celebrity culture to the growth of fascist parties. It might have all come over as ‘far too much’, if he wasn’t also simultaneously having a go at himself and throwing a good dose of sharp humour into the mix. In short, it is a fantastic album. It is not for nothing that Rolling Stone chose it as one of its top 100 albums of all time.

While Costello makes good use of his Fender Jazzmaster (a signature model would be born in 2008),
on This Year's Model, he notably moves away from his previous guitar-based songs and allows his bassist, keyboard player and drummer space to flourish.

Pump It Up,
the album’s second single, is one good example of this. Pete Thomas’ drumming and Bruce Thomas’ (no relation) bass are nothing short of stunning in providing a driving rhythm to the song. And Steve Nieve’s fairground style keyboard beautifully complements Costello’s bitter lyrics about his failed relationship with a woman who is ‘like a narcotic’: “There’s nothing underhand that she wouldn’t understand,” he spits.   

The Beat
and Lipstick Vogue similarly grow from a solid and vibrant rhythm section. One wonders how often Lipstick Vogue’s line:“Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being” has been sung out loud by an angry soul in the shower before a day’s work.

Bruce Thomas’ powerful bassline is evident again on the wonderful ska-influenced(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea’, which reached number 16 in the UK chart, and is the epitome of ‘New wave’ with its great sound and attitude. Here Costello is seemingly disgusted both with the behaviour of the simpering women: there's no place here for the mini-skirt waddle” and the aggressive arrogance of the sexist males: Men come screaming dressed in white coats, Shake you very gently by the throat, One's named Gus, One's named Alfie, I don't want to go to Chelsea". Figures and/or quotes are not available, but one suspects that Costello’s rage-filled diatribe did not go down too well with Chelsea’s tourist promotion board that year. 

There were European versions of the album that included Watching the Detectives and some US versions added Radio, Radio at the end, but far more in-keeping with the feel of the album is the version that closes with Night Rally. Don’t miss the rage and the psychotic power of the live version in the video selection below. Here Costello takes aim at the nightmare growth of fascist parties and even evokes Nazi Germany with his line about ‘singing in the showers’. It is a theme that he would return to later with more poison darts, and great success, on Armed Forces.