For some reason, Elvis Costello has never found himself in heavy rotation in my CD player. I'm not sure why...he seems to pop up everywhere I look. First my brother's band Seven Foot Politic covered Accidents Will Happen and Oliver's Army. My favorite podcast Coverville routinely plays Costello covers and even had a whole show dedicated to alternate versions of Costello songs. The DJ of that podcast Brian Ibbot, whom I have much respect for his musical knowledge and taste, put Elvis Costello's Armed Forces on his Desert Island Discs list. Most recently, I was watching this very interesting drama/mystery/thriller/musical on BBC America called Viva Blackpool that featured Costello's Brilliant Mistake as one of the musical numbers. I even remember spotting him once in a guest appearance on the TV show Brotherly Love with Joey Lawrence!
So I finally decided to grab a couple of Costello's early recordings, Armed Forces and King of America, and I gave them a few spins this week while at work. I really enjoyed both of these albums quite a bit. The lyrics and stories told here are wonderful and the range of music runs the gamut from straight up rock to a country-ish sounding folk in some cases. Of course tunes that I already knew (Oliver's Army, Brilliant Mistake, etc.) stood out but there really wasn't a disappointing track here at all.
The only comment I would add is that the first version of (What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding? that I ever heard was an acoustic one by the song's original artist Nick Lowe that eneded up on one the KGSR Broadcasts CDs that I bought in Austin a few years back. I prefer the raw solo acoustic version that Lowe did there rather than the version on Costello's Armed Forces.
If you do pick up either of these albums, make sure you pick up the Rhino Records "Deluxe Editions" which both contain bonus discs with alternate takes, live versions, and a few bonus singles.