Vinyl Frontier: This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

Oh, last year’s model has enjoyed digging this one out again. In my mind this was the soundtrack to the student years.

That proves to be an unreliable memory, in that This Year’s Model came out in 1978, my last year at university. That means the album was only there for that final year. A soundtrack to beer, girls, reading and more beer; a soundtrack to heartache and flings, and more beer; a soundtrack to stumbling out of university into a world that was eager for my arrival (or so I vaguely imagined through the hope haze).

Some albums included so far in this trawl through the old records have stayed with me, such as John Martyn’s Solid Air. This Year’s Model isn’t quite like that: it’s familiar, yes, and yet heard again through the buzz and crackle of a once over-played copy, it sounds urgent, exciting, disorienting – and new all over again.

My Aim Is True had been released the year before: a gentler album, guitar-based and ruminating on love and loss. This Year’s Model comes through the door with a shove, all angular rhythms, thumping paranoia and fantastic songs delivered at such a rush it sounds as if Elvis wants to be out of there before the grim reaper taps him on the shoulder.

The Rolling Stone review at the time gave the album five stars and began with an arresting image… “Listening to Elvis Costello is like walking down a dark, empty street and hearing another set of heels. His music doesn’t make you dance, it makes you jump.”

The album is twitchy, breathless, a finger prodding at your chest. The songs come in a jerky rush: No Action, This Year’s Girl, The Beat, Pump It Up, Little Triggers and You Belong To Me on side one; Hand In Hand, (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea, Lip Service, Living In Paradise, Lipstick Vogue and Night Rally on side two.

Costello is a reckless angry young man barely in control of this brilliant outing and the tyres only just stay on the road. The backing from The Attractions is rhythmically jagged and tight: Bruce Thomas hammers out bass lines to get the dead dancing, Pete Thomas delivers furious beats and Steve Nieve splashes keyboard notes over everything like a sort of blessing.

It all sounds just as good to this old model as it did to that young man in an upstairs room on the road leading up to Blackheath. Definitely one to dig out again and hear Elvis Costello at his angry best.

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