Released in 1979, 'Armed Forces' is probably Elvis Costello’s most commercially successful album and one that has produced more classic Costello staples than arguably any other.

Although it lacks probably his greatest ballad, ‘Alison’, and possibly his greatest song, ‘Watching the Detectives’, it would be a strange best of album for this artist that didn’t feature at the very least ‘Accidents Will Happen’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’.

The later shows Costello at his best, laying bitter lyrics about the British army in Northern Ireland over a truly brilliant pop melody. Admittedly this song's piano line – by Costello’s own admission – owes more than a little to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’.

In fact it is perhaps part of the pleasure of listening to this track that the saccharine-though-pretty pop song has been fused with lyrics condemning the slaughter of the Irish underclass.

Costello’s brilliance has always been to fuse brilliant lyrics about often controversial subjects with songs that everyone would sing along to. From ‘Accidents Will Happen’ all the way through to (my personal favourite here) ‘Two Little Hitlers’ every song here is musical crack. Initially simply fun pop songs they soon become lodged in your mind, requiring frequent replays.

Sometimes 'Armed Forces' can be impenetrable, sometimes it can be wonderful. It is always a classic.












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