Didja ever meet those people who seem all normal on the surface, but when you get to know â€™em you find out they have rooms filled with horror movie memorabilia or tons of books about serial killers?
â€œMad About the Wrong Boy,â€ the sole LP that The Attractions recorded without Elvis Costello is kind of like those people.
Itâ€™s sweet and poppy upon first listen, with lots of shiny, happy melodies, and bubblegum-synth gurgles and squawks. Itâ€™s even got a cute cover, featuring both an adorable little dog and a tasty-looking breakfast. Itâ€™s in the lyrics that the weirdness crops up, though. Songs touch on themes like self-loathing (â€œDamage Meâ€), desperate housewives (â€œHighrise Housewifeâ€), mindless conformity (â€œLonesome Little Townâ€ and â€œStraight Jacketâ€) and nuclear war (â€œArms Raceâ€). The albumâ€™s tales of British life often recall The Kinksâ€™ â€œThe Village Green Preservation Society,â€ but Ray Daviesâ€™ wistfulness was supplanted by The Attractionsâ€™ bitterness.
When the lyrics arenâ€™t dark, theyâ€™re often inscrutable and very open to interpretation. For example, does the LPâ€™s â€œSingle Girlâ€ excoriate a self-centered career woman or the â€œvirgin vigilantesâ€ that court her? Or is it just a breezy song with some oddball phrases thrown in? Considering how strong the songâ€™s hooks are, maybe it doesnâ€™t matter what writers â€œBrian & Hartâ€ meant.
About that songwriting credit: â€œBrian & Hartâ€ is Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and his wife. I know this because he told it to me when I met him after a Costello concert in 1983. However, on the songs Nieve writes by himself, he confusingly uses the name Nieve. Got that? Bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas chime in with a few songs (and play excellently throughout), but itâ€™s mostly Nieveâ€™s show.
Seeing how this is being written for â€œLost in the Groovesâ€ and not a site called â€œThe Eighties Great Hitsâ€ or something, it probably goes without saying that the public didnâ€™t go mad for The Attractionsâ€™ â€œWrong Boy.â€ Rock critics â€“ who behaved towards Elvis Costello like 13-year-old girls behave towards Justin Timberlake â€“ could not emotionally handle a Costello-less Attractions LP and dismissed it as lightweight. But there are enough great tunes on this 16-song LP to make it consistently listenable. And to make you wish there had been a follow-up.
Â â€œMad About the Wrong Boyâ€ was originally released as F Beat XXLP8 in 1980 and was released on CD in 1999 by Demon Records. Itâ€™s available on Amazon.com.