Elvis Costello and the Attractions

This Year's Model

(Columbia/Demon; 1978/1994)

By Andy Watkins | 22 September 2004

"I don't wanna kiss you / I don't wanna touch." With these bitter lyrics, Elvis Costello kicks off what has proven to be not only one of the most important albums of the first post-punk era but also one of the high points in Costello's career. When 2002's When I Was Cruel hit stores, critics, along with a good majority of Costello's fans, hailed it as "a return to form" and "the sequel to This Years Model." Costello himself has this to say about comparisons between old and new material (I'm typing this from memory, so it's not verbatim, but you'll get the idea): Of course people like the old material more than the new, they've had more time with it. People always like the old girlfriend; she was comfortable. Often they forget that it's not fair to compare one girlfriend to another.

That being said, it's difficult to deny the importance of This Years Model; ask any Costello fan to name the "best" Costello album and I'm willing to bet that it will be a run-off between it and 1979's proto-new wave masterpiece Armed Forces. As a follow-up to the surprise success of 1977's My Aim Is True and the first recorded with his long time band The Attractions, Model created a high water mark for others in the post-punk/new wave movement (and Costello himself) to try and reach.

When you listen to the message and overall attitude of the album, it's surprising that Costello was only twenty-four years of age when it was released; the whole piece is a scathing critique of relationships and their unavoidable failure. EC wasn't (and still isn't) totally cold-hearted; there are the occsaional lyrics that display the protagonist's desire for love, but they usually turn out to be the point where things go wrong instead of redemption for the angry musings preceeding them. Rather than presenting a nice front that obviously hides hurt (think "Alison"), Elvis shoves his anger and disappointment into the listener's face and says "either deal with it or turn it off." An important difference between Model and other "I hate you, we're through" albums is that Costello never feels the need to justify his rage; he explains why he's angry, but it's up to the listener to decide if his anger is warranted.

Musically, Model is the representation of a band that has just recently clicked and is still working out a couple small bugs in the sound. The great part of this is that the energy behind all the performances is easily felt and more than makes up for any small mis-steps in the group interaction. The original U.S. release of Model (on the Columbia label) lacked the track "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" as the label thought that the song was "too British" and wouldn't translate well with American listeners; to make up for the missing song they tacked on the (previously 7" single only) song "Radio, Radio" which Costello later made famous by performing "against studio wishes" on his Saturday Night Live appearance. This is just another notch in the belt of stupid ideas record labels have.

In my opinion, Costello has never really tried to repeat the sound and overall "feel" of This Years Model, and why would he? It's the perfect representation of his mind and musical aspirations of that time in his life, and I see little reason to try and rehash it. It's not "perfect," but it's as close as it can be---and, in the end, that's all we could ask from the man.