Patrick McCoy's Reviews > Armed Forces

Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno
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Sep 27, 11

bookshelves: music

Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno, was the first book in the 33 1/3 series that I’ve read that is a critical study of the album chosen. Elvis Costello has long been one of my favorite artists because his music is usually rife with metaphors, challenging lyrics, and catchy choruses and guitar hooks. 1979’s Armed Forces is one of his masterpieces and luckily Rykodisk has been re-releasing his albums with added tracks that were recorded in the sessions but didn’t make it onto the album or were kept off the original album. It also includes the excellent live versions of “Accidents Will Happen” and “Allison” recorded at Hollywood High that was originally a special edition single that came with the first 1000 pressings of the American release of the album. Bruno has Ph.D. and writes about this album with the technical and critical precision of a musician/historian as he examines the music, lyrics, and themes of the album that was going to be called emotional Fascism. The structure is a bit haphazard as he jumps around from point to point. He discusses the musical references that inspired the music, everything from R&B classics to Abba, and Cheap Trick. He also examines the record in context to his career, and the social and political climate from which it was born. He also discusses quite thoroughly the fascist references and imagery used in the album (“You’ll never make a lampshade out of me.”/”…just another white nigger…”/”Two Little Hitlers”/"...is this the final solution?"). He also spends a lot of time discussing the infamous “Columbus” incident where Elvis Costello got into an argument with Stephen Stills' band and insulted James Brown and Ray Charles to upset his American antagonists. He lists references from such diverse sources as Adorno, Barthes, Sontag, and Arendt. Throughout the book he boldfaces words that act as a sort of A-Z of the album. It is a fascinating and thorough look at one of the best albums of the last 25 years.
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