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on 4 September 2001
All This Useless Beauty is a very fine record with many great Costello songs, despite the fact that it sold poorly at the time. It's also often compared unfavourably to other albums in Costello's catalogue. It may not include the rage and venom of early Costello, or the variety of his late 80s/early 90s work, but it reveals a more refined side to Elvis and the Attractions.
The album is full of thoughtful, resigned songs such as All This Useless Beauty, Poor Fractured Atlas and I Want To Vanish, which I consider to be among the Attractions' greatest performances. Costello's lyrics are finely balanced and his voice is also excellent, pointing to the balladeer pose he's taken up in recent years.
There are rockier moments such as Complicated Shadows and It's Time but generally it's an album of songs 'that I couldn't have written at 22', as Costello put it. It might not impress you if you're a big This Year's Model fan but I'm pleased Costello chose to re-release it with My Aim Is True; it deserves to have a similar reputation.
The bonus disc also has some great tracks on it such as My Dark Life and Almost Ideal Eyes. The demos are interesting, with It's Time and Complicated Shadows being very different stylistically, but they're not really worth too many repeat plays.
In fact, the reissue is slightly frustrating for the completist; Costello has attempted to make the bonus disc a companion to All This Useless Beauty with a few tracks that fit conceptually (the demos of The Comedians and Only Flame In Town) but really have nothing to do with the album. There are a number of B-sides from this era that are not included on the reissue and will remain obscure.
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on 22 March 2002
There is a great myth circulating amongst misguided, self-righteous and pretentious rock critics that Elvis Costello has lost his edge with age. Perhaps it's just because people are constantly in a hurry to discover new artists (no bad thing in itself), but it seems extraordinary that this rich and rewarding album has been so casually and cruelly ignored. Unlike it's predecessor, 'Brutal Youth', 'ATUB' does not hark back to the primal energy of punk or rock and roll. Instead, it is, for the most part, a stately and refined collection of outstanding songs, accompanied by astutely observed lyrics full of warmth and feeling.
The success of this album hinges around a series of ballads. These are not pompous or overblown, but rather intelligent and carefully constructed exercises in restraint. The playing of The Attractions is consistently superb and the arrangements often deft, the Brodsky Quartet appearing for the closing highlight 'I Want To Vanish'. The title track is outstanding, given rich texture by Steve Nieve's piano work. Opening track 'The Other End of the Telescope', co-written with Aimee Mann, is successful despite its cumbersome title, with Costello at the height of his vocal powers letting a full, tremulous vibrato carry him through the surging chorus.
Many of these songs were written with other singers in mind, and it's easy to detect faithful tributes to some of Costello's heroes. 'Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?', originally intended for Sam Moore, is a soulful song, garnished with a powerful vocal and sounding reminiscent of Sam and Dave's own 'I Can's Stand Up for Falling Down', a song Costello himself famously covered. 'You Bowed Down', written for Roger McGuinn is all Byrdsian chime and harmonised vocals, an unusual sound for Costello to employ.
However, this is not a shamelessly derivative collection of tributes, but rather an intriguing and coherent compendium of material, with Costello leaving his own distinctive imprint on the material. 'Poor Fractured Atlas', a song meditating on the irrational behaviour of men, is beautiful and profound in equal measures - easily one of the best songs Costello has written. 'Distorted Angel' is powerful too, with a perfectly paced lyric which makes for clever melodic phrasing. Its sentiments of childish innocence and Catholic guilt mix well with the eerie production, all spooky keyboards and twanging guitars. The arrangement of 'Little Atoms' is similar and equally thoughtful. Harmonically, this is a simple and not particularly original song - given this additional twist, it becomes a fascinating oddity with an involving sound and melody. The Attractions even get to rock out on 'Complicated Shadows', arguably the least involving song in the collection, elevated to new heights by Bruce Thomas' inventive bass playing.
It's disappointing to think that people might not be open-minded enough to appreciate the versatile depth and variety that Costello's songwriting has developed. If writing ballads is evidence of losing edge and authority, then it's fortunate that these songs are pretty sublime ballads in themselves, with a maturity, intelligence and clarity of emotion lacking in many of Costello's contemporaries. This is not an album of histrionics, but rather an album of defiant restraint. Rumour has it that the new Costello album is another rock n' roll effort - it's good to hear that he's not yet content to repeat himself. Go seek this record out.
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on 15 August 2005
Having lived with this album for nine years now, I have seen it become my most played EC album.
There are two main reasons for this. First there is the quality of the songs, which are of a very high standard indeed, some of his best lurk within these grooves. And secondly there is the arrangements, which bring out the quality of the songs. His two previous efforts (Mighty Like a Rose and Brutal Youth) had been fairly angry affairs, this one is mostly more reflective with a warmth that had not previously been heard on EC albums.
This is an album that consists of nothing but highlights. There simply aren't any weak songs to be heard, but I would pick out Starting to Come to Me, Little Atoms and Why Can't a Man Stand Alone as obviously strong tracks, with the first one sounding like it should have been a big hit.
But what of the second disc? Is it worth upgrading?
Yes it is. Almost Ideal Eyes, My Dark Life, That Day is Done and The Bridge I Burned are great songs that aren't on the album CD and all are great songs. The demos are obviously included with fans in mind, but offer some interesting alternative views of the songs, and make for an enjoyable listening experience.
The only rivals, in my experience, for best EC album are King of America and When I Was Cruel. Every EC fan should own all three, especially as KOA now comes in a brilliant expanded edition...
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on 16 February 2001
Even though EC trips through many styles here, you get the feeling that he is a man totally at ease with himself both as a writer and singer. The lyrical barbs and vicious wit that he displays on virtually every song confirms a writer at the peak of his form. Listen to his superlative vocal on the title track to find a singer brimming with confidence in his ability. Everyone should have a copy!
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on 4 April 2012
This album has been grossly overlooked and is perhaps Costello's best album of the mid Nineties. The songwriting is almost as good as some of the songs on Imperial Bedroom. The stand out tracks are the title track which was first recorded by June Tabor (a fine version), Poor Fractured Atlas with a wonderful piano part, Complicated Shadows and I Want to Vanish. A diverse piece of work but the songs grow on you like a fine wine.
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on 18 July 2001
The album hasn't quite got the passion of 'Brutal Youth' (1994) or the sensitivity and crooning of 'Painted From Memory'(1999)but at least it manages to avoid the overproduction and all round 'plodding' of 'Mighty Like a Rose'. Buy it because its the most recent example of an Attractions record (in my opinion, Elvis' best collaborators) and because as always, Elvis delivers a bunch of great songs
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on 10 October 2015
great album excellent service
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on 27 December 2014
great great great
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