Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: Punch the Clock


5:30 in the morning is not the best time for the unfettered glee of "Let Them All Talk," the opening song in Elvis Costello's 1983 album. In fact, many of the songs in Punch the Clock are best enjoyed in a lighter mood. Songs like "Love Went Mad," "The Element Within Her," and "The Greatest Thing" are all gratingly upbeat and repetitive. Every time I hear them I'm reminded why I don't listen to this album so often."The Element Within Her" was actually played last year during the first leg of the Spinning Songbook tour after years of never making the set list but in a new arrangement that improves on the album version. The first of two collaborations with '80s hit makers Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley, producers of hit albums by Madness and Dexys Midnight Runners, Punch the Clock seems like a clear attempt at reaching those chart heights. And while the record succeeded at that, it also now sounds like a victim of the '80s.  

The fact that a lot of the songs in this album sound alike make three of Costello's most enduring songs stand out. I'll begin with "Shipbuilding," possibly one of the most understated protest songs ever. A mournful song that's really about Falklands War that doesn't even take place in those island off the coast of Argentina. Costello sings about the toll war takes on the home front and how a whole nation can be complicit when leaders go down a war path. The song, co-written with Clive Langer, features Jazz legend Chet Baker who plays a trumpet solo that sounds just as tragic as his sad, drug-addled life. It totally makes sense that this song closes side A on vinyl when you hear the CD and completely lose the sentiment "Shipbuilding" evokes when the charging horns blare on kicking off "TKO (Boxing Day.)" Another standout is "Pills and Soap," a stark rant inspired by the early hip-hop by Grandmaster Flash. Finally, there's "Everyday I Write the Book," the Elvis Costello song you're most likely to hear at pharmacies, big box stores and shopping centers. It's a cute song about love lost featuring a female vocal group and the Attractions' grooviest performance yet. Though I enjoy it, I can't help but prefer the alternate version below - a much more rock-based arrangement that makes the song ten times better for me. 

Classics: Everyday I Write the Book, Shipbuilding and Pills an Soap.

Songs I'd like to hear live: Everyday I Write the Book ( Alternate version,) Shipbuilding, The World and His Wife.

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