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Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) Paperback – April 28, 2005

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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

About the Author

Franklin Bruno's criticism has appeared in The Believer, Slate, Salon, Best Music Writing 2003 (Da Capo), and Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music (Duke University Press). After several records as a member of Nothing Painted Blue and as a solo artist, his most recent musical project is Civics, the debut CD by The Human Hearts (Tight Ship); he is also a recording and occasional touring member of The Mountain Goats. He has taught philosophy at UCLA, Pomona College, and Northwestern University; currently, he is Visiting Assistant Professor at Bard College.
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Product Details

  • Series: 33 1/3 (Book 21)
  • Paperback: 159 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (April 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826416748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826416742
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.5 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Franklin Bruno's book on *Armed Forces* gives Elvis's music the serious attention that it deserves. As someone who has had the album in fairly constant rotation since I bought it 20 years ago, I was amazed throughout by discoveries, small and large, about the album. Small discoveries: Who knew that Elvis's band listened constantly to ABBA and Cheap Trick while on tour (and that these bands left their fingerprints on his imagination)? Who knew that Elvis's version of 'Peace, Love and Understanding" cut out the satiric patter and folk-rock harmonies of the Nick Lowe original? Who knew that each of Elvis's first three albums begins with Elvis's voice unaccompanied by his band? Bruno is a wonderful 'close listener' of the music and he has a great ability not just to notice these small details but also to speculate on their meaning for Elvis's project as an artist.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I think the information in this book was high quality and enriched my enjoyment of a record that has been one of my favorites for the past thirty years. As a bonus a couple of other related EC albums are discussed as well (Get Happy, This Year's Model).

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.
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Format: Paperback
All the praise and all the criticisms in the polarizing reviews here are accurate. The format of the book is a challenge, no doubt. It doesn't have a linear structure, it goes on tangents and jumps around in no logical order (well, except for alphabetical). At first this was annoying to me, but as I read on the beauty of the approach became clearer .. by taking chronology out of the narrative, we see Armed Forces in its totality, and the focus is on the end result of the process of making the album rather than focusing on the process itself. If you're an EC fan, I recommend this, but be prepared for an unconventional read that takes some getting used to.
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