They were both strong albums, but My Aim Is True had great songs that were undersold by the boring backing band, while This Year’s Model didn’t have enough memorable tunes to match the quality lyrics and aggressive band. Armed Forces, Costello’s third album, finds a neat middle ground, bringing catchy tunes to marry to The Attractions’ playing. Armed Forces is less vitriolic than This Year’s Model, but it’s still early Elvis Costello, with plenty of aggression and misogyny; the working title for the album was Emotional Fascism. The result is catchy pop music with an edge, especially in the very strong first half.
My favourite song on Armed Forces is the pulsing ‘Green Shirt’, which is representative of the emotional fascism label. ‘Accidents Will Happen’ is an excellent opener, tuneful and prettily arranged, while the single ‘Oliver’s Army’ follows a similar template, with Nieve’s piano. There are plenty of understated, hooky songs like ‘Goon Squad’ and ‘Party Girl’, while Armed Forces ends with a cover of Nick Lowe’s ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’.
Even though it flags a little in the second half, Armed Forces is my favourite of Costello’s early albums. After this, Costello would become much more ambitious, veering between different guises, so Armed Forces is effectively the end of the first chapter of his career.