Elvis Costello’s fourth studio album, Get Happy!!, doesn’t exactly capture the sound of the 70s giving way to the 80s (it’s a throwback to the R&B and soul records of the 60s) but it’s a blast start to finish, showcasing Costello at his peak both lyrically and musically.
The album’s 20 songs, almost every one clocking in under three minutes, are microbursts of creative energy, seemingly transmuted from Costello’s brain to record through some black magic. That’s giving short shrift to the Attractions, of course, who play the hell out of these songs, capturing the energy and elegance of the Stax tunes that inspired them.
The origin of Get Happy!! has been attributed to an ugly barroom incident in which a drunken Costello spewed racial insults to rile up Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. Critics speculated that Costello recorded these songs as atonement for those remarks.
Costello denies the direct connection, writing in one of his voluminous liner notes that these were simply the songs that escaped his heart and brain when he next sat down to write.
Whatever the reason, he created a masterpiece, not just one of the best albums of 1980 but one of the best albums, period.
You can put your money where your mouth is
But you’re so unsure
I could be a miser or a big spender
But you might get much more than you bargained for
Checking on a checkmate
Grassing on a classmate
So beautiful and fortunate
You’re the one who hates to love
But he’s the one who loves to hate
He can fix you all for good
Because he is the neighbourhood
You can get money for blood
Blood money for doing no good
Better tell me now, have you made your selection?
Are you ready for correction?
‘Cause the wages of sin are an expensive infection
It’ll make you bankrupt
Better pay up now, don’t interrupt
So in love, I’m so sincere
Just like a well-known financier
You know I’ve never been corrupt
I’ll pay you a compliment
And you’ll think I am innocent
You can total up the balance sheet
And never know if I’m a counterfeit
You won’t take my love for tender…