Released in 1984, this album would have been a lot better if it had been recorded four or five years earlier. Dreadful ’80s production techniques wash out most of the impact of a pretty solid, if not spectacular, collection of songs. It’s not just the synthesizers, though: it’s the backup singers, constantly inserting themselves where they don’t belong, who are the problem more than anything else. A more austere guitar / bass / drums / vocals approach would have done much to bring out the life of songs like “I Love You, Suzanne,” “My Friend George”—which still manages to bop along contentedly and stick in your head for a little while after the record’s over—or “Down at the Arcade,” a fun little closer. File this under “missed opportunities.”
Elvis Costello: “Taking Liberties”
Like most collections of rarities, B-sides and previously unreleased tracks, there are a lot of great songs on this album (which crams 20 tracks onto one slab of vinyl) – but that doesn’t make it a great album. Costello’s fascination with American country music was already evident in 1980 – long before country was cool – but those tracks (“Radio Sweetheart,” “Black & White World,” “Stranger in the House”) just don’t mesh well with the more punk-infused New Wave cuts like “Clean Money,” which kicks off side 1. Still, there’s enough interesting material here to justify repeat listenings.
Joe Jackson: “Look Sharp!”
Side One of this record may well be the greatest album side ever recorded. If you disagree, you are clearly a dirty dirty Communist and tone deaf too. So there.