The Best Of -- The First 10 Years

Elvis Costello

Hip-O, 2007

REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler


In the spirit of full disclosure, as I write this review I’m wearing a pair of Buddy Holly-esque black plastic eyeglass frames that are arguably Elvis Costello’s best-known M.O. The dude also wrote some pretty decent music over the past 30 years, the first decade of which is well represented here.

Hot on the heels of a several-year Rhino reissue project of Costello’s entire catalog, this carefully selected collection includes highlights from the British rock bard’s outstanding first three LP’s – My Aim Is True (1977), This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979) – then some other stuff from between 1980 and 1986’s return-to-form LP Blood and Chocolate. It’s a great introduction to the singer-songwriter’s deceptively minimalist style, and longtime fans will have fun comparing personal faves to selections made by Costello himself. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I fondly remember getting hooked on lyrics like “I said, ‘I’m so happy I could die / She said, ‘Drop dead’ and left with another guy” from “(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes” in my college days. You’ll probably recall where you were the first time you heard many of these tunes as well.

Costello’s rapid early progression is worth noting and fully visible on this compilation. The first eight tracks are strong and varied, before Costello stabilizes with his ’80s output. The hollow rhythm of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” draws the line in the sand between the fantastic primal rock urgency that made early Elvis sizzle and the more polished pop of Top 40 Costello later on.

While songs like “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down,” “High Fidelity” and “Everyday I Write the Book” beat the shit out of anything folks like Billy Joel did mid-career, the more complicated, mature Costello just doesn’t have the same energy of swirling, organ-laced tirades like “Pump It Up” and “Radio, Radio” from This Year’s Model, his best album.

The mid-80s also brought abandonment of the raw, reggae-borrowing bounce of tunes like “Watching the Detectives” and “(I Don’t Wanna Go To) Chelsea.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy the easy listening experience of “New Lace Sleeves” from Trust (1981) or “Beyond Belief” from Imperial Bedroom (1982), but they fit better with dinner rather than the sweat and heat it took to cook it.

Blood and Chocolate is underrepresented by stirring slow-burner “I Want You;” a good song, but one of the least exciting from that record. The rootsy “Indoor Fireworks” is a nice late compilation cut from the T-Bone Burnett-produced King of America (1986).

Throughout these first 10 years, though, the listener can’t help but appreciate the melodic, occasionally Beatle-esques hook factor on virtually all 22 tracks. Unlike his attractive choice of eyewear, Costello’s sound is all his own.

On the whole, The First 10 Years and some other hand-picked compilations seeing release this year are well worth the time and an essential discovery for rock fans. Take a listen and decide for yourself which Costello is the Elvis for you.

Rating: B

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© 2007 Shane M. Liebler and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hip-O, and is used for informational purposes only.