Issued for the first time in 1980, Get Happy!! was Elvis Costello’s fourth album, and (to me) the one signaling the end of his purple years. Granted, his biggest hits were yet to come, but those were to be sporadic successes. The string of consecutive Top 10 singles ended here with his cover of “I Can’t Stand Up (For Falling Down)”. The sound of the album also marks the first detour from Elvis’ “classic” New Wave sounds, as some R & B inflections are very evident throughout.
The original LP has 20 tracks. Many last little more than 2 minutes, and some are even shorter than that. Absolutely nothing has a chance of getting on your nerves, and the one “long” track (in the context of the album, obviously) is the set closer. The song is named “Riot Act” and it is one of Elvis’ most balanced lyrics from the period. Content and form are perfectly interweaved, and the disc couldn’t finish on a higher note.
The two main rereleases are the upgraded Rykodisc CD (1994) which has 30 tracks (including demos, b-sides and all-around rarities) and a 2 disc deluxe set that was first pressed in 2002 by Rhino. The extra CD has all the bonuses found on the Rykodisc release along with many more demos and also some live versions that close the disc.
Lyrically, Costello was at the peak of its word-twisting-and-bending reign. The album starts on all cylinders with “Love For Tender”, a whirlwinding concatenation of financial puns applied to love, turning feelings into something mercenary, and it never really lets go. Other exhilarating heights include the claustrophobic “King Horse” (which comes across like a cannon detonated in the violence after a storm), and another anti-romance song named “High Fidelity”, a single in its own right. It has one of Steve Nieve’s most swinging performances.
A song which also stands out is “New Amsterdam”, which is performed solo by Elvis. A band version can be found on the 2 CD set, and I feel it should have been included on the Rykodisc release too.
Some personal favorites include “Opportunity”, “Men Called Uncle” and “The Imposter”. “Opportunity” was to be somehow recounted two decades down the line in the song “45”, whereas you know how much I like the song “Men Called Uncle” if you have read my previous post about my favorite Elvis Costello’s lyrics. For its part, “The Imposter” is a song that Costello admittedly adores (his current backing band bears the name, and he also was part of a short-lived duet adhering to that moniker). Incidentally, “The Imposter” features the “megaphone effect” on the vocals during the chorus. This effect can likewise be perceived on the song “King Horse”.
I am also very keen on “Possession”, featuring a set of lyrics that will top the next installment on “My favorite Elvis Costello Lyrics” feature for sure: “Now you’re sending me your best wishes/Signed with love and vicious kisses/ You lack lust, you’re so lackluster/ Is that all the strength you can muster?”
And I have no doubts many are mad about “B Movie”, “Human Touch” and “Motel Matches”. These are all exceptional songs, and “B Movie” in particular has one of the most enduring bass parts I have ever heard.
You must have noticed that I haven’t spoken about the record’s low points. That is because there is not such a thing. You could say that “Beaten To The Punch” and “5 Gears In Reverse” are not that brilliant, but that is only two song out of 20. And they are over in a blink.
Personally, I find “Get Happy!!” a hugely enjoyable album. I would buy any of his previous two records first, but if you can not find them this is a very cohesive introduction, and it is bound to send you hunting for more records by Mr. McManus. And if you find both the two previous records and this one, buy “Get Happy!!” and any of the other two. That would be a phenomenal tandem.