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A very underrated album
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.