The Attractions go `Mad’

The Attractions - Mad About the Wrong Boy

Didja ever meet those people who seem all normal on the surface, but when you get to know ’em you find out they have rooms filled with horror movie memorabilia or tons of books about serial killers?

“Mad About the Wrong Boy,â€Â the sole LP that The Attractions recorded without Elvis Costello is kind of like those people.

It’s sweet and poppy upon first listen, with lots of shiny, happy melodies, and bubblegum-synth gurgles and squawks. It’s even got a cute cover, featuring both an adorable little dog and a tasty-looking breakfast. It’s in the lyrics that the weirdness crops up, though. Songs touch on themes like self-loathing (“Damage Meâ€Â), desperate housewives (“Highrise Housewifeâ€Â), mindless conformity (“Lonesome Little Townâ€Â and “Straight Jacketâ€Â) and nuclear war (“Arms Raceâ€Â). The album’s tales of British life often recall The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society,â€Â but Ray Davies’ wistfulness was supplanted by The Attractions’ bitterness.

When the lyrics aren’t dark, they’re often inscrutable and very open to interpretation. For example, does the LP’s “Single Girlâ€Â excoriate a self-centered career woman or the “virgin vigilantesâ€Â that court her? Or is it just a breezy song with some oddball phrases thrown in? Considering how strong the song’s hooks are, maybe it doesn’t matter what writers “Brian & Hartâ€Â meant.

About that songwriting credit: “Brian & Hartâ€Â 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 it’s mostly Nieve’s show.

Seeing how this is being written for “Lost in the Groovesâ€Â and not a site called “The Eighties Great Hitsâ€Â or something, it probably goes without saying that the public didn’t go mad for The Attractions’ “Wrong Boy.â€Â Rock critics – who behaved towards Elvis Costello like 13-year-old girls behave towards Justin Timberlake – 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.

 “Mad About the Wrong Boyâ€Â was originally released as F Beat XXLP8 in 1980 and was released on CD in 1999 by Demon Records. It’s available on