The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook (Deluxe Edition)
REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/16/2012
The new wave on which Elvis Costello rode in to stardom has long since hit the beach and receded back into the depths of musical history. Yet Costello is one of the few artists from that era whose music endures. The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook began its life as a box set that cost $200-$300. The cost was so egregious, in fact, that Costello himself urged his fans to not purchase it. The deluxe edition is not too much different from the box set, which was limited edition, autographed, contained a sixteen track live CD and a DVD of the show from the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in May 2011, a vinyl EP a 40 page book and various other odds and ends. For less than a tenth of the price, the Deluxe Edition offers the same CD and DVD and has a mini booklet as well.
The Spinning Songbook idea is a stroke of genius. The concept is that a giant multicolored wheel with the names of Costello’s songs is placed on stage like a vertical Wheel Of Fortune. Fans are chosen from the crowd to come on the stage, spin the wheel, and then remain on stage to either drink a cocktail or dance in a go-go cage while Costello sings the song. The whole thing has a vaudevillian air about it, as a lady in a corset chooses fans and leads them to the stage to spin the wheel, and Costello transforms into one of his many stage personas, Napoleon Dynamite (a name he first used on his 1986 album Blood & Chocolate, long before the Jared Hess movie) to emcee the song selection. “Around and around and around it goes, where it stops nobody knows!” The idea first appeared in 1986 at the Wiltern, and this show commemorates the 25th anniversary of its inception.
The sixteen song audio portion of the album does not convey the audience participation or the engagement of the live show very well. The album starts out in spectacular fashion with four fast paced two to three minute songs; “I Hope You're Happy Now,” “Heart Of The City,” “Mystery Dance,” and “Radio Radio,” followed by the catchy “Everyday I Write The Book.” From there the material slides off, either with one sounding very much like another, or as in the case of “God Give Me Strength,” “Watching The Detectives,” “I Want You,” and “Stella Hurt” go on too long in a self indulgent fashion. Such self-indulgence is out of place in an audience-centered show. The Bangles are even taken off of mothballs to perform “Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)” as they did for the original show in 1986.
What the audio disc lacks in presentation, the DVD portion provides in spades. In fact, if it were not for the DVD portion, this album would rate much lower. The concert video shows the interaction this scheme involves, and shows Costello’s ability to relate to his audience, even through his different personas. The video portion also offers a somewhat different track listing, including hits like “Alison” in which he invites a young lady named Alison onto the stage, and acoustic numbers “A Slow Drag With Josephine,” and “Jimmie Standing In The Rain.” Bonus material on the DVD also shows more of Costello’s Napoleon Dynamite persona and interviews with the band on the inception of the Spinning Songbook idea.The Spinning Songbook is a risky move on Costello’s part, leaving the bulk of his set’s song selection to chance. But with a dense back catalog and the willingness to work his audience into the plot, he pulls off a compelling performance and one that is clearly fun for those who paid to see it. For the true Costello fan that does not need an autographed box set, this should provide the fix.