When Rhino bundled every album of Elvis Costello's entire catalog with a bonus disc that collected up every conceivable outtake, b-side, demo and live cut, it left even diehard fans who followed Elvis through every genre jump with the feeling that maybe they've heard enough Costello for one lifetime. On those first brilliant albums on which his renown still rests, there was the added thrill of a guilt-and-revenge persona that made each new musical detour seem bigger than just dabbling. Every record was an event because it was building a mystique. Brilliant as some of the later albums were, without the mystique they came off as the craftwork of a mere musician.
This big-band live disc might seem no different as it includes Costello's post-analysis liner notes and bonus excerpts from that Il Sogno ballet you might not have avoided because of your sick need to hear every version of "Watching the Detectives."
If you reached a Costello saturation point ages ago and skipped his torch ballad album North, you wouldn't have noticed the expansive breathing space he allows musicians now, from the swinging Quincy Jones-ish opener "Hora Decubitist" to the jazzed-up version of "Watching the Detectives" to the extended solos on "Almost Blue" to the only slightly embellished but still forceful "God Give Me Strength." There are occasional spills: "Episode of Blonde" still sounds like a mess, an otherwise sizzling salsa retread of "Clubland" is ruined when it lapses into Kurt Weill waltz time and "Speak Darkly My Angel" sounds like Elvis is vying for Andrew Lloyd Webber's level of annoyance. But it holds together surprisingly well for a career overview that omits the Attractions' rhythmic contributions. As for the ballet, it was enjoyable in a Carl Stalling sort of way. But in truth, the only time my ears really perked up was when "The Conspiracy of Oberon and Puck" ripped off the vamp from "On Broadway."
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].