On Second Thought
Elvis Costello - This Years Model






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

"There is less humor on [This Years Model] than on [My Aim Is True]. It's more vicious overall but far less personal." -- Elvis Costello, 1978

"There is little point in denying that many lyrical images of his early songs attest a barely-contained contempt for women" Tony Clayton-Lea wrote in his biography on Costello. Nowhere is this statement more true than on his second album. In fact, This Years Model is the quintessential breakup album. Eight of the album's 11 tracks are vicious tirades against ex-lovers (the other three are potent satires of fame and the music business).

As on My Aim is True Costello begins the album with a guitar-driven, rollicking, spiteful song. "No Action" is one of the most brutal, raw, breakup songs in Costello's catalog. It's only appropriate that he cuts to the chase thematically ("I don’t wanna kiss you/I don't wanna touch/I don't wanna see you/'cause I don't miss you that much"). While the album is lyrically in the same vein as its predecessor, it is miles ahead musically. After recording My Aim is True with soft-rock studio band Clover, Costello found a proper band to tour and record with. The album's next song, "This Year's Girl" is the perfect introduction for the Attractions and more importantly organist Stevie Nieve. With Nieve, Costello managed to transform his sound into an intricate, sophisticated new-wave pop punk. Since then Costello's best work has always been with Nieve, who is arguably one of the most talented and accomplished organists in rock and roll.

The urgent musical backing provided by the Attractions does wonders for Costello's delivery-not only have the lyrics improved, but they sound nastier and edgier. His promise of a "more vicious album" is fulfilled on "Hand In Hand" ("If I'm gonna go down/you're gonna come with me") and a good number of the other tracks. But it certainly doesn't feel less personal-the relationship songs were written around the same time as My Aim Is True and the showbiz satires were written on the unsuccessful Stiff Records tour where Costello was immersed in the superficial, decadent rock and roll lifestyle.

This Years Model is the standard to which all other Costello releases should be judged. While it is not my personal favorite, it is most certainly the best. His debut may have established Costello as the lyrical genius that he as regarded as today, but it is This Years Model that cemented his status as a musical force.


By: Colin Beckett
Published on: 2003-09-01
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