Have we come this far to find a soul cliche?
Tim Brough | Springfield, PA United States | 05/05/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Flush with artistic raves and the critical success of "Imperial Bedroom," Elvis Costello did exactly what we should have expected him to do. He made an album absolutely nothing like the one we'd all been listening to for the entire previous year. I even remember a scathing review of this album at the time that opened with a comment akin to "Well, nobody's going to call this album a masterpiece."
OK, so that was a pretty accurate assessment. "Punch The Clock" was a maniacally obsessive pop album, primarily due to the choice of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley as producers. Their track momentum was unstoppable at the time, and they wrapped EC and the Attractions with soul vocals, punchy horns and a free swinging style of production that was the polar opposite of Nick Lowe's. If you can, imagine "Get Happy" with more breathing space in the songs.
The result might have been "Punch The Clock's" irresistibly catchy opening track "Let Them All Talk." L&W layered the production with what was common to the period...the lush horns, the steamy r'n'b pulse, etc. Just as important was their finger on the popbeat of the moment, which suddenly saw Elvis flirting with the American Top 40 via "Everyday I Write The Book." While the video was more topical than the song, it didn't mean Elvis was shying away from biting lyrics. "Punch The Clock" is loaded with such notable quotes like "I wish you luck with a capitol F" and "He said 'are you cold,' she said 'no but you are,' la la la."
It also didn't mean that Elvis' definition of "pop" didn't include some heartfelt jabs at the current state of England. This being the era that produced Reagen-Thatcher and the Falklands War, the songs "Pills and Soap" and "Shipbuilding" were remarkable for their inclusion among the giddy pop of "The Greatest Thing" or "Mouth Almighty." The understated, elegant lyric, along with a perfect solo from Chet Baker made "Shipbuilding" not only the best song on "Punch The Clock," but one of the outstanding songs in EC's library.
Given the success of the album (it was one of EC's first albums to reach gold status in sales), it made sense that L&W would be around for the next. If you really want to gauge how underrated "Punch The Clock" usually is, just give an re-listen to "Goodbye Cruel World," the undisciplined follow-up. Over twenty years later, "Punch The Clock" has definitely aged well. Which means the answer to the opening line is no cliches here, but some strong 80's pop as only Elvis and the Attractions could shape it.