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Elvis Costello: Best Of The Stuff You Probably Don’t Know



Not unlike Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, U2 and the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello is a white rock and roll superstar who has lost the knack to great songwriting  and can only very occasionally write a killer song. Of course, occasionally isn’t never, and since I have a working knowledge of, well, everything he has ever written, I thought I’d try and find some of the better tracks you may have missed. In order of release (more or less). I passed on the opera and I passed on great great covers album called For The Stars.

Tripwire – Wise, Up, Ghost – 2013-, this is the one that seemed to be added very little by the Roots, but works anyway. Costello has his eyes on worldwide war, and the civilians getting killed by landmines. It is a powerful lyric but what makes it work is the best music he has written. Hang around for the horn at the end – B+

A Slow Drag With Josephine – National Ransom – 2010 – With just a plunky banjo, Elvis overdoes it and then some, a wordy, clever clever, song of infidelity like a jaunty ride on a bicycle made for two, and if the middle had been better it would have made it all the way based solely upon song structure – B

Sulphur To Sugarcane – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane – 2009 – Leon Redbone soundalike story of a Southern sucking, seducer, who compares himself to a match setting the girls on fire: “Now if you catch my eye and you find that it runs down your leg/It’s like striking a match pretty hard upon a powder keg/They’ll tell you from the borders to the waters of the gulf/And if you take all the sugar you’ll end up in the sulphur”, witty sexy and fun. A goodie – B+

American Gangster Time – Momofuku – 2008 – Indeed, this and the next song “Turpentine” are among the best stuff he has written this century. The chorus is terrific and Steve Nieve’s bridge is a galloping great one -and the end will rattle you good –  A-

Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further? – The River In Reverse – 2007 – With Allen Toussaint (who had played  grand piano on Spike), Costello’s response to 2005 Hurricane Katrina, hit its highest height by far with this excellent Toussaint cover, snappy and to a purpose, New Orleans deserved greatness and got it: did it ding wrong? it didn’t dig long -referring to the bells of freedom  – A

I’m In The Mood Again –  North – 2003 -Costello’s jazz album written for wife to be Diana Krall is also his “Look At The Harlequins”, where half the album is downbeat and depressed, and the other half he finds love and is melodic and beautiful. Best of all is this last song on the album, an ode to new love and an ode to the Madhatters in Manhattan, A great song – A

The Scarlett Tide –  The Delivery Man – 2003 – His worst album ever includes one of his very best recent song, the English folk song, written by T Bone Burnett sounds like a traditional English folk number, more traditional than even Fairport Convention (or at least Mumford And Sons)  and fits onto the album extremely uncomfortably. Incidentally, if you want a better version try Joan Baez’s on Day After Tomorrow – A-

Episode Of Blonde – When I Was Cruel – 2002 – This album was the complete end for Costello and me, his opportunity to regain all he had lost the same way he did with Brutal Youth, and he couldn’t do it. He lost his Elvis-ishness. This song mixes a beat poet vitriolic rage in the verses, with a deeply beautiful chorus. No, I’m not crazy about it but cmon how bad can a song be with a couplet like: “Receiving secret messages from an alien intelligence, paying off his stalker it’s a legitimate expense” – B

And that’s it for the decline and fall of Costello in the 21st century. The very previous album world be the brilliant 1999 Painted By Memory, and Costello in the 20th Century is a whole other story. Or episode if you prefer…






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