Title: Radio, Radio
Artist: Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Album: This Year's Model
By 1978, Elvis Costello had found a band. Shortly after recording his 1977 debut My Aim is True, Costello formed The Attractions to accompany him on tour. They were present during the notorious Saturday Night Live appearance in December 1977 (I talked about this in last month's write-up of Alison) and he took them into the studio to record This Year's Model.
The results are stunning and markedly different. Everything is crisp and brimming with energy. Steve Nieve's trembly organ perfectly complements Costello's twitchiness and the rhythm section delivers a one-two punch worthy of Elvis's often venomous lyrical strikes. The band plays with a cohesion that simply brims with life.
"Radio, Radio" is a great example of this new and improved configuration and defines the new Elvis Costello sound by framing a smart song with an efficient arrangement. What strikes me most about the performance and mix is how little is necessary—it's what they don't play that makes it work. The introduction gives us the full range of colors available within the quartet—guitar, organ, bass and drums—alternating legato quarter notes (tonic) with staccato eighth notes (dominant). When the verse begins, the band pulls back to allow clarity of Costello's text. Following the rising bass line, the chorus commences at 0:38 with a bit of a surprise. Instead of opening up, the song changes texture only slightly with the bass alternating tonic-dominant eighth notes and the drummer removing the snare completely, save to punctuate changes of chord. This is really quite unexpected but works so well in allowing the vitriol of Costello's lyric to shine through. Soon enough, we're presented with the hook accompanied by the full band introduction that opened the tune. Then, in a songwriting coup, Costello inserts a short bridge (1:09) prior to leading us back to the verse. This verse features a variation of the rising bass line, presented in stop-time (1:35), which again allows us to keep our attention on the lyric while simultaneously energizing a previously experienced section of the song. We can debate whether the song goes on for twenty more seconds than necessary, but the coda gives us an opportunity to listen to the excellent drumming of Pete Thomas who is superb for the duration of the record. A perfect arrangement of a great song.