Elvis Costello: The Complete Armed Forces (UMe) - review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, January 18th, 2021  

Elvis Costello

The Complete Armed Forces

UMe

Dec 01, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Given how often the incredible third album by Elvis Costello (his second with his long-time backing band The Attractions, a union that produced many more incredible albums up to 1986 and again more briefly from 1994 to 1996) has been reissued and that some (though not all) of the bonus material here has seen official release via said reissues, it is tempting to dismiss a release like this gargantuan set as for hardcore fans only. That would be missing the point, though. 

Sure, while that is true given the audience, it’s still important to look at the contents. Along with the original album on the first LP is his iconic cover of album producer Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” a track only added to the U.S. version and released as a single in the UK On the second LP, there is the first ever vinyl release of the full Live at Hollywood High show, which was released on CD in 2011. It should be noted that original copies of the LP came with a 7-inch containing three songs from that historic show, including a jaw-dropping piano and vocal version of the album’s opening track, “Accidents Will Happen.”  

LP three has the first ever official release of a show from the Pink Pop festival in Holland and that one features early live versions of songs that would end up on the following year’s Get Happy!!, but in radically different arrangements. The next three records here are 10-inch EPs, two of them live and one featuring well-known (to fans) B-sides and outtakes that have been on various compilations (such as 1980’s Taking Liberties) and CD reissues over the years, but they are still great to hear in this form all together. The material here is truly top-notch and would be anyone else’s A-sides. 

The set concludes with three 7-inch EPs, presented here in their original form as they were released in the UK, with the aforementioned “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” also appearing as the B-side of Nick Lowe’s “American Squirm” single (also included here). And if all that wasn’t enough, you also get 200 pages with seven comic books, artwork featuring pulp fiction novel style covers pertaining to each song, Costello’s detailed liner notes, and copies of handwritten lyrics along with rare photos and memorabilia. Again, this is a gargantuan set for the most hardcore of fans, but I can’t imagine that any of them will be displeased by the contents here. All in all, one can view this as a celebration of one of Costello’s most popular albums. It went Top 10 in the U.S., his first ever album to do so, and “Oliver’s Army” was a #2 hit in the UK as well, all of which brought him even more attention and renown than his first two albums already had. (www.elviscostello.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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