Elvis Costello - Punch The Clock
or 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.
In 1983 Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley were two of Britain’s most prominent record producers. Elvis Costello knew them from his days at Two-Tone Records. Critics have speculated that Costello’s choice of Langer/Winstanley as producers reflected an attempt for another hit record (he got it-“Everyday I Write The Book” was one of his only American hits). However, it seems more like Costello’s continuation of his quest for a new sound. He wasn’t content resting on his laurels. The album, while far from perfect, offers interesting insight into the Attractions’ sound.
Punch The Clock’s first three songs are its best. “Let Them All Talk” finds Costello and the Attractions as urgent as they have sounded since Get Happy!!, with a throbbing bass and punchy horns in the intro and chorus and the song also sounds different than anything else they had recorded. The overdub cut-and-paste style is most successful on the fractured keyboards of “Everyday I Write The Book” and the highlighted bass and drums on “The Greatest Thing”. “Shipbuilding” had been a hit for Robert Wyatt, but Costello isn’t as well suited to sing a version of his own song. He fared much better as a balladeer on Imperial Bedroom’s “Almost Blue”. The album veers sharply downhill from here; “TKO (Boxing Day)” has a nice chorus, courtesy of studio singers Afrodiziak (one of whom was later featured on Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life”) but the rest of the song is muddled. The biggest problem with side 2 is that Costello offers nothing truly memorable. There are some decent pop songs, but pure pop is not Costello’s forte. “Mouth Almighty” is one of the more pleasant of these songs, Langer and Winstanley give Costello’s voice room to breathe, whereas on many of the other songs he gets buried in the mix, and the tune features another superb Steve Nieve organ line. Costello states that “Pills and Soap” was influenced by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but the influence is hard to discern apart from the drum-machine-like snapping. “The World and His Wife”, which closes the album, is a lyrically silly, bland satire of middle-class suburban families, but Costello’s delivery is spot-on as is the backing of the TKO Horns.
Punch The Clock is really nothing special, but enjoyable nonetheless. Costello added a few great numbers to his catalog along with a lot of inoffensive filler. It shouldn’t be the first Costello album you purchase, nor should it be the last.
By: Colin Beckett
Published on: 2003-09-01