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Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) Paperback – April 28, 2005
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“I'm convinced that Franklin Bruno knows more about Armed Forces than even Elvis Costello does. His dense interrogation of the album traces its roots through punk back to Ray Charles and Burt Bacharach, examining the nuanced integration of so many different styles into something new, fierce, and idiosyncratic ... As contradictory and as caustic as his subject can be, Bruno understands that Costello's shortcomings only make him more fascinating as a human and more compelling as a guy trying to figure out how to rebel against the rock'n'roll establishment.” ―Stephen M. Deusner, Pitchfork
“I decided to give this book a try precisely because it’s by Bruno, both a musician and a poet, which gave me hope that he could get inside the music technically and yet communicate it beyond the technical. Plus, who better than a poet to handle Costello’s gnarly wordplay with aplomb? It was a good bet. Listening to Armed Forces again for the first time in ages after having read Bruno’s analysis, I could hear more in it.” – Barry Schwabsky, Hyperallergic
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Large discoveries: Bruno captures something that I've always struggled with when thinking about Elvis -- how his 'avenging dork' persona became the vehicle for a new kind of pop music, music that was witheringly critical of so much (neo-colonial adventures, power games involving sex and money, the media that turns everything into black and white) but also could be very self-critical too. Bruno suggests that the avenging dork persona was a kind of doppelganger of the 'authoritarian personality' -- the foot-soldier of reactionary movements -- and that the power of Elvis's argument with 'emotional fascism' (the album's original title) was that it was something of an internal dialogue. To me, that seems right-on, though unsettling too. Here Bruno follows the critic Greil Marcus's lead, but he's able, as a musician himself, to tie these larger questions of pop & politics to the actual sound of the music.Read more ›
Being American, I've been listening to these songs for many years without full appreciation of the British social and historic allusions. I mean, I knew that Oswald was Oswald Mosley, not Lee Harvey Oswald, and so on - but there are a lot of subtleties I had missed.
Also, it is interesting how many references there are to fascism in this record. I don't think I missed any of these over the years but I never added them up to see the cumulative effect.
The author made much of the Columbus incident. I can recall when that happened. Back then Rolling Stone was THE rock magazine and they relentlessly flogged EC issue after issue after the bar brawl with Bonnie Bramlett. I was so sick of it that I didn't renew my subscription over it. I wish the author had gone through back issues of Rolling Stone that followed that incident. Every single one had some sort of jab at EC - and when they put him on the cover with the headline Elvis Costello Repents" they made sure they featured that particular cover on the blow in subscription card for a year or so afterward - as if his head was a trophy similar to the cover of *Spike.*
I'm not sure why the material in the book was presented in the way it was - it seems like the manuscript had been set on an outdoor table, a wind blew it all over the front lawn, and it was gathered up and published in a sort of random order - but it works. This book is highly recommended for fans of Elvis Costello.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Some good and interesting info about Armed Forces...
Mixed with a seemingly obsessional focus on The "Columbus Incident" (in which EC drunkenly said unkind... Read more
i've read a few of the other 33 1/3 books and found them to be consistently good reads, but this one was unbearable. Read morePublished on March 20, 2008 by Richard Martin