Punch The Clock
Elvis Costello went for the pop jugular with Punch The Clock, teaming up with the production team of Langer and Winstanley, who had helped to create hits for Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. But it’s not a good fit for Costello’s music – plastering backing vocals and horn sections on constrains the fluid ensemble playing of The Attractions and feels as cynically calculated as the album title implies. But there are a handful of terrific songs here, and even though the overall sound of the Punch The Clock is dated, it’s worth hearing the highlights.
The smooth soul of ‘Everyday I Write The Book’ was Costello’s only US top 40 hit song, and it’s worthwhile, benefiting from the slick sound and backing singers, and showcasing Costello’s deftly punning lyrics. I’ve always found it confusing that the first wave of British punk ran out of steam before Margaret Thatcher’s conservative, repressive government, but two of Costello’s best songs here are directed at The Iron Lady – ‘Shipbuilding’ is stately and dignified with Chet Baker’s trumpet, while ‘Pills and Soap’ is tense and brooding.
I don’t have much use for the rest of Punch The Clock, as it doesn’t play to Costello’s strengths, but there are a few songs here that are essential.