#11: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Get Happy!!’ (1980) vs. Outkast, ‘Aquemini’ (1998)

This was a fun battle. Both new listens for me and both are near perfect records. One album has relentless drive and the other has relentless groove. Both demonstrate lyrical genius. Both demonstrate a mastery of their genre.

Get Happy does exactly as prescribed. Most songs feel like I am cartwheeling down a mountainside and nailing every rotation with a smile on my face. Elvis’s delivery, musically and lyrically, is completely forward moving. The album is in constant motion. The uptempo drums, the aggressive vocals, the falling melodic and chord change refrains, the big hit riffs. There is never a moment of rest, but it’s all energizing.

When it came out, Get Happy was seen as a bit of a flub. Mainly because it was a bit of a change from the three previous Attractions albums. The retroactive reviews have changed to the point where this is now seen as one of his best. That is great art, when the audience has to go to the artist and not the other way around. Sometimes, like this case, it can take a while.

I would always hear or read about how important Outkast was in the evolution of hip hop. Hearing Aquemini I can see why. This album is groove perfection. Every little sample or rhythm or even guttural “ugh” is completely calculated and flawlessly timed. The layering and blending of these precise ingredients created a stew of sounds that masks the rigid architecture, making it feel more natural and less mathematical. Like a well made hip hop ratatouille.

Outcast is really the first Southern hip hop mainstream group. Their impact no doubt spilled into how the East and West Coast hip hop scene would develop. Aquemini was an instant classic immediately and was revered by those who followed them, having a profound influence and musical impact.

So, this battle was fun in terms of discovering two great albums, but it’s a tough one to decide on. If I were to pick the one I like most and will probably include in my future musical rotation, Get Happy is that album. If I am to pick the album that had the most impact, I gotta think that Aquemini influenced more simply because it was immediately loved by both fans and critics. This time I shall go with the one that I simply just like better.

JS

WINNER: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Get Happy!! (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 18

90s: 22

EARNED POINTS
80s: 47
90s: 53

Next week’s post – #10: Tracy Chapman, ‘Tracy Chapman’ (1988) vs. Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ (1994)

#38: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Imperial Bedroom’ (1982) vs. Soundgarden, ‘Superunknown’ (1994)

Oh Elvis, you poor little fellow – you drew a short straw with this one. You’re like the head of the chess club being sent out to grapple with the captain of the wrestling team. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a clever musical craftsman, but there is a rock n’ roll juggernaut thundering across the mat towards you. You might just want to run.

Full disclosure – your judge and juror is a slobbering fan of your opponent. As far as I’m concerned, Superunknown is the pinnacle of grunge achievement. There is no album from that legendary early 90s scene that captivated me more than this one. Because what’s better than grunge than grunge with Beatlesque ambition pumped through a psychedelic filter? Soundgarden had me at Badmotorfinger but they scooped me up and carried me away with this 1994 masterpiece.  Chris Cornell’s voice is a force of nature; the music is dark, heavy, melodic, creative, experimental. And BIG. They even make a pair of spoons sound epic.

The darkness is all the more potent since Chris Cornell’s suicide in May 2017. Suddenly songs like “Fell on Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun” and “The Day I Tried to Live” are all the more intense. I hadn’t listened to Superunknown in years. Listening to it now, I am struck by how great it still sounds.

But let’s give Imperial Bedroom its due, Elvis. On this, your seventh album, you expanded your sound and played with different genres. It’s been a genuine pleasure to discover it, and it’s prettier and more interesting than I expected. No doubt about it, you are a meticulous craftsman with a gifted band. I absolutely love the soaring “Man out of Time”, as well as “…And in Every Home”, which makes me think of Randy Newman, and “Pidgin English”, which starts out sounding like the Kinks and then…

…oh, why I am bothering with this analysis? This one is no contest and never was. Your shoulders have been on the mat from word one. Sorry, Elvis.

JG

WINNER: Soundgarden, Superunknown (2 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 6

90s: 7

EARNED POINTS
80s: 7
90s: 9

Next week’s battle – #37: Marvin Gaye, Midnight Love (1982) vs. Johnny Cash, American Recordings (1994)