That Fatal Mailing List #59: “Moods for Moderns” (1979)
Emotional Fascism was the working title for Elvis Costello’s 1979 album with the Attractions, released as Armed Forces.
Like its predecessor, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces starts with a blast and lunges down the road with barely a moment to catch breath. Costello pushed for a more pop, radio-friendly sound on the record, aided and abetted by producer Nick Lowe; the result is an album that’s accessible but claustrophobic, with the full fury of the Attractions filtered through the artifice of the recording studio.
On songs like “Moods for Moderns,” the sound is tight, precise; it’s got a taut Stax/Booker T vibe that presages Get Happy!! The lyrics fit into a theme that surfaces throughout the album, how the personal and the political intertwine until there’s no telling where the individual ends and the universal begins. There’s the same amount of casual cruelty in our wars as there is in our broken relationships; they can’t help but feed one another.
The title creates its own friction; the phrase “moods for moderns” seems to suggest that the modern boy and girl have somehow managed to navigate relationships with a fresh sensibility. As it turns out, these moods are as dark, archaic and cruel as they’ve ever been. “I am so proud that you’ve been taken in vain,” the singer admits. “What if none of your dreams come true?” He’s caught in a feedback loop of unrequited desire, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to let that get in the way of his petty fury.
There’s nowhere for the feelings to go; soon, she’ll belong to someone else, and he will be a stranger, just pretending.