Jessie Lilley
Buddy Barnett
Brad Linaweaver

November 2009     Web Edition     Issue #3

Forum Blog News Mondo Girl Letters Photo Galleries Archives Back Issues Books Contact Us Features Film Index Interviews Legal Links Music Staff Legal

Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Get Happy!! (Deluxe Edition)


I’ve heard this album is Elvis’ tribute to Stax-Volt soul--or, alternately, his attempt to atone for racist remarks about Ray Charles. The way I see it, this is the 20th century version of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the epic poem (“Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink”) written in an opium haze by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of literature’s most articulate addicts. “Rime” is a wonder that veers wildly between inspired and what the fuck? but, more often than not, hits its mark.

Same with Get Happy!! Rather than homage or apology, I see it as the primal scream of a deeply, diversely gifted musician in the throes of a wicked coke jag. Simultaneously cranking and cranking it out, you know?

The good news: everything has an edge. Up-tempo, propulsive, stripped down, and ultra-tight.

The bad news: everything has a grit-your-teeth, coke-jag edge. The production values lean toward brittle. The musicianship has a relentless sledgehammer attack. And Elvis’ vocals frequently sound strained and road-ragged.

But the good edge beats the bad. I dug Get Happy!! on first release, and its appeal endures almost a quarter-century later. Already packed with 19 (!!) songs in its original release, the two-CD, 49-song Deluxe Edition shows just how productive you can be if you combine talent and stimulants. Alternate cuts, demos, live versions—they’re all here. Elvis created more terrific tunes in his first four albums than most people who are both talented and lucky in their lifetimes. And Get Happy!!—his fourth—was his last blast before beginning his still rewarding but more experimental and mature (and we know that can be a mixed blessing in rock) phase with Trust.

Special mention should also go to Steve Nieve, whose prominent keyboards provide the driving force for winners like “Secondary Modern” (with cheesy and wonderful Farfisa figures) and “Girls Talk” (a grand piano tour de force). The live cuts underscore the fierceness of the band, and the demos and alternate takes show them ready, willing, and able to go as far as their imaginations wander and their stash lasts.

In short, a pure, uncut audio narcotic. Costello one-ups Coleridge and travels where no mariner ever dared go before.

Bob Brown