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Re-packaged 'Best of...' collection originally from 1999.
on 28 August 2004
I'm not criticising the music. I rate Costello as one of the greatest songwriters and performers of the last fifty years and almost all of his records offer something special to the listener. My problem is with this new best of compilation. Such a thing is important when we're dealing with an artist as prolific and idiosyncratic as Costello, especially as it gives new fans the chance to par-take of lesser-known songs alongside the bigger hits, acting as both a great introduction to the artist and as a retrospective analysis of their career. However, despite the quality of this collection, one is unable to overlook the fact that the track listing is identical to the previous best of released by Polygram (Universal) in 1999... making this more a cynical re-packaged attempt to make money than a product designed to further Costello's profile and/or add to the works that were missing from that initial release.
The songs as they stand do offer us the best, and the compilers of the original collection (not sure if Costello was involved!) should be commended for culling together a great cross-reference from Elvis' greatly diverse and often stylistically jaw-dropping albums, from the early new-wave sound of This Year's Model tracks, to the Sgt Pepper style of Imperial Bedroom, onto the industrial rock of Blood & Chocolate, the country of King of America, the wild experiments of Spike and the ballads of All This Useless Beauty. Tracks like Alison, Oliver's Army, Radio-Radio, Everyday I Write the Book, Shipbuilding, Man Out of Time and I Want to Vanish really do show Costello at his absolute best... but there could have been so much more! Because the initial collection was released in 1999, it was naturally devoid of tracks from Costello's recent albums, 2002's When I Was Cruel and last year's classic North. So, why didn't we get great songs like Tart, Alibi, Episode of Blonde, When I Was Cruel #2, Someone Took the Words Away, Fallen, Still and When Green Eyes Turn Blue added to this collection?
An update of the old track listing would have seemed the natural choice to me... and would have justified the existence of another Costello Best of so soon after the last one. What with the more recent songs listed above, not to mention the compositions from his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet (tracks like Swine, I Almost Had a Weakness, Taking My Life in Your Hands, Jacksons Monk & Rowe, This Sad Burlesque and The Birds Will Still be Singing) and various Costello penned tracks from that Anne Sophie von Otter album, For the Stars, there would have easily been enough material for a third disk!! There are also the songs that could have been taken from the Cruel Smile E.P or what about some of those great B-sides that turn up on those endless Costello re-issues? This collection may be of interest as a budget-primer for those discovering Costello for the first time, but for me, it seems more like a mocking attempt to shift units so that Costello's publishers can make some money off the back of his old hits.
I for one, personally, would have preferred the release of an all-inclusive Elvis Costello box set (like the Cure's Join the Dots from earlier this year), as opposed to yet another re-packaged Best of with the same old generic hits.