Saturday, June 11, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Reivew

Get Happy!!
(new reissue)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-334 2 180g LPs

Produced by: Nick Lowe
Engineered by: Roger Bechirian
Mixed by: Roger Bechirian
Mastered by: Shawn R. Britton at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs



Elvis Costello's Soul Album Gets Double 45 Treatment!

by Michael Fremer
June 07, 2011

While American soul music— northern urban and southern rural—and UK-via-the-Caribbean-derived Ska course through the veins of the fourth Elvis Costello and the Attractions album, the flesh thankfully remains white limey.

The album may be a one off diversion from the band's natural creative path but it doesn't go off the cliff. The drum-centric arrangements are relatively spare and to the rhythmic point. Guitars accent but don't dominate the landscape.

If you don't listen carefully to "High Fidelity" you might not even notice its Detroit roots. Even the cover of Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" doesn't outwardly sound like something emanating from Stax/Volt. If you don't pay attention to Elvis's superb overdubbed background singing on the frantic "Love For Tender" you might not recognize the classic soul gestures. Most obvious are the Ska rhythms and echoey guitar production of "B Movie" and "Human Touch" and the Nashville melodrama in "Motel Matches."

Once you latch on to what's going on though, the antecedents of just about every track come sharply into focus but like the vocals, they remain back in the mix.

The album's hard nosed intensity is unlike any of Costello's previous efforts. The worldly political commentary on Armed Forces and on earlier albums is gone, replaced by more personal matters that don't tolerate irony in either the writing or especially the singing.

Elvis sings with an unrelenting ferocity rarely heard from him before or since. When he goes falsetto at the end of "Beaten to the Punch" he expresses exasperation anger and hurt. He rarely lingers on a lengthy vibrato note.

The song line-up is intense, ranging from affirmations like "Clowntime is Over" to the usual male/female struggles "Possession," "Man Called Uncle" and "Riot Act." One of my favorites is "King Horse," a song about the lousy job of being a waitress. There are twenty songs here but even more gems from these sessions had to be cut. Songs like "Girls Talk" (excellently covered by Dave Edmunds), "Getting Mighty Crowded" and the uncharacteristically weep "Losing You," among others.

It was an astonishing burst of creative energy on all sides, including Nick Lowe's production. However, you really need to read the fine print on this one, written by Lowe just below the track listing for the original's side two. He's goofing on you and he knows it.

Lowe writes that he and Elvis "...talked long and hard" about the wisdom of cramming ten loud rock songs onto each side of a single record. We all know what happens when you do that. Levels have to drop, bass gets rolled off, and often the results, already compromised, need to be dynamically compressed.

'We are proud that we can reassure hi-fi enthusiasts and/or people who never bought a record before 1967 that with the inclusion of this extra music time that they would find no loss of sound quality due to groove cramming as the record nears the end of each face. Now get happy."

Come on Nick!

There's a loss of sound quality due to groove cramming on every record to some degree, particularly when you approach the smaller groove radii near the center. Highs roll off.

Despite what Nick Lowe wrote, I knew the record was sonically seriously compromised because I got to hear the very, very, very limited edition double 45rpm white jacket promo edition that went out to a few radio stations and members of Costello's entourage.

Back in 1980 when this was released, I was living in Los Angeles. An acquaintance of mine worked as a tour stage manager for various bands and he got a copy and played it for me. Going back to the single LP edition, American, British and Japanese was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Compared to that magical double 45 the single 33 1/3 sounds small and constricted. You can hear a great , spacious and audacious recording looking for and not getting the breathing room it deserved.

I lusted for that promo record. I never forgot it. I lost contact with my L.A. friend but not with that record!

So when Mobile Fidelity announced its Elvis Costello reissue series I told them they had to issue Get Happy!! as a double 45rpm set. They hadn't heard about that promo and they like to reference their work against an original. So what to do?

I got ahold of my old friend in Los Angeles and he still had the record! Would he be willing to lend it to Mobile Fidelity? Yes!

In addition, when the album originally came out in the U.K. the cover artist had playfully painted on the front and back covers "the dreaded ringwear." It's obviously fake, but the clowns at Columbia Records in America worried that consumers would return the record because of the "ring wear." How stupid!

I suggested using the original artwork but I had to prove to Mo-Fi that the original cover had painted "ring wear."

So, when this double 45 finally arrived I could not wait to hear for the first time in thirty one years Get Happy!! unleashed! Was it worth the effort, the time and the expense to produce this as a double 45?

If you've grown up on the original you will be astonished by the width and depth of the picture, by the dynamic thrust, by the cleanly separated instruments, by the weight of the bass, the shimmer of the cymbals and the way the effects Lowe inserts puncture the air. You'll also be able to hear Costello's robust lead singing and his carefully rendered background vocals with greater spatial and textural clarity than you've ever heard them. If you've never heard this album you'll just find it overwhelmingly fantastic in every way. If it doesn't get your body moving, you are paralyzed.

And if you think the CD edition you bought eliminated all of the cramming issues, well, you're in for a big surprise. Mobile Fidelity got everything off the tape and into the grooves in ways the digital edition simply does not.

So no, this is not inexpensive for a pop record, but it's among Elvis's finest in every way and finally, thirty plus years later we finally get to hear what Elvis, Nick and the others heard in the studio.

Will Get Happy!! make you happy? Count on it. Most highly recommended!

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.


©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

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