Andrew Mueller reviews a couple of the series’ books in the November issue of Uncut magazine. (I’ll post the review of J. Niimi’s R.E.M. book later.) Here’s what he has to say about Franklin Bruno’s Armed Forces book (4 stars out of 5):
Another instalment of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series, in which writers ramble at length across the musical and lyrical topography of favourite albums, the danger with such expansive examination is always that the critic might read more into the work than its creator wrote into it.
Happily, US critic and musician Franklin Bruno never quite out-clevers himself. It helps that he’s approaching an album with more formidable depths than most. Armed Forces, Elvis Costello’s third LP, was released in 1979. It was intended to make Costello a superstar in America, and nearly succeeded, reaching the Billboard Top 10 before the infamous fracas in which Costello made disobliging remarks about Ray Charles to some elderly American musicians, who raised a witch-hunt that (probably mercifully) scuppered Costello’s chances of becoming the next Elton John. Bruno, like many before him, over-examines this incident, failing to contemplate the possibility that a tired, drunk, and preternaturally belligerent young man just said something stupid which he didn’t really mean.
The working title of Armed Forces was the less subtle “Emotional Fascism”, and Bruno’s structure of alphabetised instalments allows him to pursue the romantic and political brutality explored on Armed Forces far and wide: Cromwell, Mosley and Churchill appear alongside more predictable references to Jake Riviera and Nick Lowe. He loses points for repeating the canard that the piano on “Oliver’s Army” was lifted from Abba’s “Dancing Queen” – it’s actually much closer to “Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)” – and for misspelling the name of the editor of this journal [on p.41 – my bad, Franklin. We got it right in the bibliography, though], but this is otherwise the intelligent, slightly feverish companion that Armed Forces deserves.