Elvis Costello – The Complete Armed Forces is a retrospective collection curated by Elvis Costello himself centred on Costello’s 1979 album with The Attractions, Armed Forces. If nothing else, Armed Forces is a personal landmark as the LP was the first Elvis Costello LP I picked up all those years ago.
All told, Elvis Costello – The Complete Armed Forces contains NINE discs which feature a new 2020 remaster of the album, B-sides, alternate versions and outtakes, demos, and a treasure trove of live recordings – including 23 unreleased live tracks taken from those particular concerts.
As always, diehards and casual fans alike will find the latest album remaster the main attraction (ahem) of this retrospective collection. What I am struck by in this 2020 remaster is how crisp the instrumentation sounds.
I do recall that back in the day, the original vinyl seemed a little muddy but no problems now! Which is a boon for an avid listener like myself as surely the contributions of Steve Nieve (keyboards), Pete Thomas (drums) and Bruce Thomas (bass) cannot be overlooked in the grand scheme of things.
The live concert recordings are dubbed Live at Hollywood High & Elsewhere 1978, Europe ’79 – Live at Pinkpop, Riot at the Regent – Live in Sydney ’78, and Christmas in the Dominion – Live 24th December ’78 respectively. These documents certainly demonstrated how visceral and raucous Costello and the Attractions were as a live band during these heady days.
The demos and B-sides collection included in the collection is called Sketches for Emotional Fascism – the latter being the aborted title of Armed Forces and includes songs like “Clean Money”, “Talking in the Dark”, “Wednesday Week” et al, which are all tracks that deserve their day in the sun.
For me, the enduring nature of Armed Forces like in Costello and the Attractions’ caustic melodicism – classic material like “Oliver’s Army”, “Accidents Will Happen”, “Party Girl” – all burned into my musical DNA. Bloody essential.
… still there’s more …