This Year's Model

Music review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
This Year's Model Music Poster Image
Eloquent songwriting, punk attitude from influential artist.

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age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

There's definitely inspiration to be found among the frail, twisted, and tense characters that populate the songs on This Year's Model. In a general sense, Costello -- hailed as a new Dylan when he first broke -- took the punk attitude of the time and enriched it with complex music and clever wordplay. He challenged musicians and listeners to be eloquent and inventive -- not just angry. Also, the "question authority" message of the anthem "Radio Radio" encourages listeners to think outside the box.

Positive Role Models & Representations

One wouldn't necessarily call the characters in Costello's early songs "role models," as he paints them, by turns, as frustrated, angry, or emotionally stunted. But the artist himself brought tremendous intellect and talent to the musical table in the '70s, and has unapologetically followed his own excellent artistic instincts for more than 30 years, setting a sky-high standard for the creative energy that any individual might put into, or get out of, a music career.


Violent images in these songs are more figurative than literal, but there are a few violent-seeming lines: "You wanna torture her" ("Pump It Up); "I got the bully boys out, changing someone's facial design" (Hand in Hand); "... Shake you very gently by the throat" ("Chelsea"); "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor / You've got to cut it out" ("Lipstick Vogue") and "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me /I wanna bite that hand so badly" ("Radio Radio").


This Year's Model contains loads of sexual imagery, though often it has more to do with sexual feelings than with the act ("No Action," for example). Songs with the most overtly sexual lyrics are "Little Triggers," "This Year's Girl," and "The Beat," which contains the somewhat disturbing lines: "I keep thinking about your mother / Oh, I don't wanna lick them / I don't wanna be a lover /I just wanna be your victim."


Two songs mention "hell" ("Pump It Up" and "Hand in Hand").


Some of the songs on This Year's Model denounce consumerism. "Lipstick Vogue" and "This Year's Girl" condemn the media's objectification of women, and "Radio Radio" rejects the narrow-mindedness of corporately programmed music.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

"Pump It Up" refers to a woman being, metaphorically, "like a narcotic," and "This Year's Girl" mentions "daily tranquilizers."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Year's Model was the second album from Elvis Costello, and the first record he made with The Attractions, who remained his backing band for years. The album contains few references to drugs or violence, and there's more sexual tension than actual sex, but a couple of the sexual images could be considered disturbing. Though Costello's musical influences and talents were vastly farther reaching, he capitalized on the popularity of punk in the late 1970s by adopting an "angry young man" persona early in his career. In keeping with that, the characters that populate the songs are tense and frustrated, and the musical approach -- particularly Costello's sneering vocal delivery -- is edgy and aggressive. Costello is usually praised most for his brilliance as a lyricist, and this album is full of his famously clever wordplay. 

User Reviews

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Parent of a 14-year-old Written byWeeklybob April 1, 2012


One of the greatest albums ever made.

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What's the story?

Grammy winner and rock 'n' roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello was one of the most critically acclaimed artists to emerge from the British punk/new wave music scene in the late 1970s, but his music was not easily categorized into either of those pigeonholes. Drawing on his knowledge and appreciation of American country, soul, and rock 'n' roll, Costello infused these various musical ideas with punk attitude to become a new kind of singer/songwriter whom critics have compared to Bob Dylan or even Cole Porter. THIS YEAR'S MODEL, the first album Costello made with The Attractions, marks the beginning of the sound with which he is most identified -- defined by the powerful rhythms of drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Bruce Thomas, Costello's overwrought guitar playing, and Steve Nieve's keyboard pyrotechnics. The album peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard album chart, and yielded some of Costello's best-known songs, including \"Radio Radio\" and \"Pump It Up.\"

Is it any good?

More than 30 years later, This Year's Model is still one of Elvis Costello's best-loved albums, and a few of the songs remain staples of his live performances. The unique sound of this album has held up beautifully. Steve Nieve's acrobatic piano/keyboard tricks, and Costello's provocative songs and singing style, are still more exciting than most modern albums, and Costello continues to be a major influence on other songwriters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the song "Pump It Up," which is often played at sporting events. What do you think this song is about?

  • In 1978, "Radio Radio" was an extremely irreverent song, because of its indictment of corporate-sponsored entertainment. What's today's "radio"? Do you think the music industry is more open to creativity, or criticism, than it was then?

  • What do you think about rock 'n' roll artists branching out into other genres, such as country, classical, etc., as Elvis Costello has?  

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