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That Fatal Mailing List #74: "Opportunity" (1980)
The Attractions recorded Get Happy!! with Elvis Costello in September and October 1979; they’d been performing with him since July 1977, including two albums of material under their collective belts (This Year’s Model, Armed Forces).
Think about the stylistic shift Costello took on Get Happy, and then think about the journey from where the Attractions left off (the claustrophobic new wave pop of Armed Forces) to where they were expected to go (Stax via Motown). By all reports, the Armed Funk tour of early 1979 was a booze and cocaine-fueled mess, including that infamous night in Columbus, Ohio referenced in “Riot Act.” Apparently the recording of Get Happy wasn’t much better, with engineer Roger Béchirian remembering it as a “cocaine haze.”
And yet, there they are, these four guys in a studio in the Netherlands that everyone hated, somehow putting their own sound and 60’s R&B into a pressure-fueled crucible and emerging with this near-perfect diamond of an album.
It’s hard to say what might have prepared this motley crew so well for infusing Get Happy with such an authentic, skillful sound. It’s not just that a song like “Opportunity” apes the soul and funk that has come before; it does it so well, like Costello secretly escaped and cut the record with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. On drums, Pete Thomas finds a groove and digs in deep, which gives Bruce Thomas the freedom to deliver a melodic, swinging bass line. Steve Nieve’s organ is a pitch-perfect homage to Booker T. and full of hooks. Costello’s guitar is free to add color and shade, but never needs to carry the song.
That’s what the Attractions are really providing to EC, on “Opportunity” and throughout their time together–the impeccable foundation that allows him to focus on the story he’s telling with his words. That innate sense of empathy and understanding, whether they’re channeling revenge and guilt or hovering inside a pop R&B concoction.
Listen to “Opportunity” on your streaming service of choice.