Tag Archives: Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello • Live at the El Mocambo [CD]

[Reviewed 11/19/2009 in Skratchdisc; the concert on this disc is from 1978]

My relationship with ELVIS COSTELLO has been a rocky one. I wrote a piece on him for my 9th grade newspaper, based solely on taking my journalism class teacher’s copies of My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model home for the weekend and coming up with what I’m sure is a shoddy little piece of writing. (Thanks Mr. Bishop!) Next thing, Armed Forces comes out with that bonus 7″ of Live At Hollywood High. I ride my bike to some local record store, buy it, strap the bag to the rack on the back of my ten speed, and off I go. Next thing you know I’m his biggest fan. I buy everything. Every import single, 12″, CD single, everything. Then things changed…

Nowadays the guy drives me crazy. He tries too many genres, collaborating with just about everyone who’ll have him. And he’s married to Diana Krall! How’d he manage that? Well, it’s not germane to this review so I’ll move on. The only releases of his that I’ve bought in the last decade or so have been the reissues and the ones where he’s actually playing ROCK ’N’ ROLL. So here’s Live at the El Mocambo, which was originally released as a Canadian promo album, then as a bootleg (that’s what I had back in the day), then came out as part of a Rykodisc box set. Now he’s put it out as part of a live series of value priced CDs. And I come a-runnin’! This March 1978 show was just after he’d put together The Attractions, the best band he ever had (and with the best bass player he ever had, Bruce Thomas). It’s a fiery, ragged set, recorded for a Canadian radio station (so the sound quality’s a bit compressed and flattish), and features the band doing songs from the first two albums. It’s great to hear the band tear into tunes from My Aim, since they didn’t play on that one, and it’s great to only pay ten bucks for it. Again, audiophile sound quality is not what we’re after here, it’s great performances. And that they are.
4/5 (Hip-O B0012380-02, 2009)

 

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Elvis Costello • “Someone Else’s Heart” [7″]

Weird timing for this one. ELVIS COSTELLO (with Roger Bechirian) produced Squeeze’s 1980 album East Side Story. The record was lauded then as a “new wave masterpiece” and it still holds up extremely well, even without the new wave tag. “Someone Else’s Heart” is one of the songs on that record, and it must’ve made quite the impression on EC that he would do his own version 34 years later. Just released for Record Store Day, the 7″ on YepRoc features that on the A-side and an instrumental mix on the B. It’s a more chilling arrangement than Squeeze’s, which relied more on the quirky, Farfisa organ style they’d used on their previous album, Argybargy. Costello recorded this with ?uestlove of The Roots, the “hip hop” band he worked with on the 2013 Wise Up Ghost project, and a few other heavy hitters. What they serve up here has a loping heavy bass line courtesy of Owen Biddle, some gritty guitar from Kirk Douglas and ?’s trademark drumming and loops, and it’s a fine version of the song. Leave it to Elvis to not cover the obvious songs (though “Tempted” would have been pretty interesting, I’ll bet). The instrumental version on the B-side is great for hearing the individual bits the band is playing (especially the clavvy keyboard part from Ray Angry), since EC sings both lead and layered backing vocals on the regular mix that cover some of the nuances of the arrangement.

A worthwhile 45 to pick up, and supposedly available beyond Record Store Day. I originally had this on my “save it for later” list, but my inner Costello fan ghost whispered to me something like, “what if they run out?” and “what if it’s awesome,” so I gave in and got it. You might want to get in on this action, too. Or no action. Your call.

3/5 (YepRoc SI-YEP-2558, 2018)

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Live at Hollywood High [CD]

 [Originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]

The second in EC’s live reissue series, and the one that most of his hardcore fans have been waiting for. Live at Hollywood High is the complete 1978 concert recorded at the venerable high school, just after ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ first album, This Year’s Model, was released and before Armed Forces was even recorded. Very nice sound quality here (much better than Live at the El Mocambo), and puts the three songs that were first issued on the free vinyl single into context. Of course, as these things go, if you bought the most recent reissue of Armed Forces then you already have half of this concert, but for a little over ten bucks, it’s definitely nice to have the complete show.
5/5 (Hip-O Records)

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Paul McCartney • Flowers in the Dirt [2017 Reissues]

If you follow all the latest reissue news on the many fine blogs there are dedicated to such important info, you may know that PAUL McCARTNEY has been under fire for this, the latest in his Archive Collection series. Flowers in the Dirt has just been reissued in multiple formats, including a 2CD version, a 2LP vinyl version, and a super deluxe 3CD+DVD box set. All three include the original 12-track 1989 album (the CD versions had and have an additional track) plus a second disc of demos. The super deluxe adds on a third CD of “demos” and a DVD featuring videos of the singles and documentary footage. What’s all the hubbub, bub? you ask. And for that you’ll have to read on (or if you’re impatient, skip down a few paragraphs)…

Flowers in the Dirt was one of McCartney’s occasional “return to form” releases – an album that brought him some solid chart success after nearly a decade of drought (from ’83 until ’89 was a struggle – remember “Spies Like Us”?). Arriving just ahead of the single release of lead-off track, “My Brave Face,” Flowers was at once contemporary and completely McCartney. This album showed Macca at his best, with sweet, hooky pop on tracks like “This One” and “Figure of Eight” (both released as singles), lush confections like “Motor of Love” and the super single-that-wasn’t, “Rough Ride.” It was also a record featuring songs the once-Beatle co-wrote with new wave wunderkind Elvis Costello, whom it was noted filled a sort of John Lennon role – EC being a foil for McCartney to bounce ideas off of, and (presumably) a voice of reason if Paul were to lose the plot. “My Brave Face,” penned by the pair, placed in the Top 20, and Costello’s recording of “Veronica” (also composed by McCartney/MacManus) gave EC his highest placing ever in America. The demos the two recorded together are what make the second CD/LP a got-to-have; here are nine of the songs the duo wrote together, performed raw ’n’ ready and including great tunes that never made it to proper release, such as “Tommy’s Coming Home” and “Twenty Fine Fingers.” You get these same nine songs, further along in arrangement, on disc three of the super deluxe edition, and (I’m told) much closer to full band versions. I haven’t picked up this version yet, and here’s why…

This 1989 limited edition version of Flowers in the Dirt included a 3″ CD with non-album tune “Party Party,” which is only included as a download in the 2017 box set.

Flowers’ super deluxe version also comes with a disc’s worth of downloads, comprising many of the b-sides and remixes spawned by the album. Many hardcore fans feel these should have been included as physical media, especially considering the high cost of the set. With four books included, it does seem like McCartney’s leaning more on his own scribbles ’n’ doodles and then-wife Linda’s photos than on the music – and that’s supposed to be what these “archival releases” are all about. It also happens that this means some great songs are missing, such as “Flying to My Home” and the two sides of the 1987 single that preceded the album, “Once Upon a Long Ago” and “Back on My Feet,” which were never even released in the USA. For a box set at such a price this disc-worth of tuneage is conspicuously missing. Sure, many of us already have these items via the singles (vinyl and CD) they came from – or via a plethora of bootlegs – but it’s the principle of the thing! And besides, these items were already officially released once so it’s not like Macca’s denying a demo’s release because his voice sounds hoarse or out of tune. He claims he’s trying to stick with the times by offering these tracks as downloads, but really, the only people likely to buy the super deluxe version of Flowers want them on physical media – people who are generally older than those who spend their time downloading music. McCartney and his advisory team need to wake up! Conduct some fucking focus groups, people! Find out what the bulk of the likely buyers want, and give them that. Jeez. Do I have to do this myself?! (Don’t even get me started on Paul’s cassette-only release for Record Store Day!)

ANYHOW. Flowers in the Dirt is a brilliant record, and this remaster (I’m judging from the CD) sounds just fine. Nothing stands out one way or the other from the original 1989 release, though I’m hoping the vinyl is better than the original. Those buying the CD version in the USA may want to pick up a copy at Best Buy, who offer a free limited edition 7″ of “My Brave Face” (b/w “Flying to My Home”) via coupon included in the package.

4/5 (Capitol/UMe; 2CD, 2LP and 3CD/1DVD box set)

For more about the FITD controversy, visit Paul Sinclair’s excellent SuperDeluxeEdition.

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Elvis Costello • Taking Liberties (LP)

Welcome back, me! Took some time off to get my head sorted out (thanks Mike, Dan, Sarah, Kelli, Jesus, et al.) and now I’m about to take some liberties with this.

elvis_takinglibertiesElvis Costello‘s Taking Liberties was a 1980 compilation put out by Columbia Records here in the States to bring together 20 tunes that had escaped US ears. From his first album through his fourth (Get Happy!!, earlier in ’80), EC and the Attractions had released numerous B-sides, soundtrack tunes and various other recordings and his US label wisely issued them on one piece of vinyl.

When I discovered Taking Liberties it was the answer to my (17-year old) prayers! No more scouring my local record shop for costly import singles, no more writing to shops in NYC that I found in the back pages of Trouser Press or NY Rocker for singles they’d probably already sold out of… Now I had an hour of rarities that I could listen to over and over and not wear out the way singles inevitably would. The cover, suitably, showed Elvis outside of an American telephone booth (instead of a red British one), ostensibly writing the album’s title across the cover. Clever. On the back was a note from the record label’s A&R guy telling us of the variety of types of songs that were inside and how “the fabulous Attractions add a fiery vigor to many of Elvis’s numbers.” Inside, the inner sleeve gave up all the info about the songs and where they could originally be found – a handy reference in the pre-Internet and Wikipedia days! The record itself had a parody of Columbia’s old labels, and that was cool, too.

takingliberties-label

The original side one label for Taking Liberties was a parody of those found on Columbia’s old 78s.

Luckily, the music on Taking Liberties was as exciting as the presentation. All kinds of great songs were on it, from rockers like “Clean Money” and “Big Tears” to moody outings like “Hoover Factory” and “Ghost Train.” And the Attractions never let me down, either, really digging in to “Tiny Steps,” “Crawling to the U.S.A.” and many more. I can’t tell you how much this album meant to me! It was like a second volume of Get Happy!!, which also had 20 songs on it. That’s 40 new songs in one year. Crikey!

This reissue comes from Universal Music, where Elvis currently licenses his earlier works, and it sounds quite good. I can hear all kinds of things in the songs that the kinda krappy-sounding original masked. I think once the initial crackles that come with a new record rid theirselves of my vinyl I’ll be even happier. As the original liner note sums up, “Elvis clearly demonstrates here that his potential and versatility are practically unlimited.” Well said, Gregg Geller, wherever you are.

5/5 (UMe/Universal)

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Trust [Mobile Fidelity LP]

elviscostello-trust-frontMobile Fidelity entered the world of audiophile vinyl back in the late ’70s with their “half speed mastered” pressings of popular rock, jazz and classical albums. These days they don’t mention the half speed bit, but they do note their “Gain 2 Ultra Analog System,” which is their current technology for bringing to us “the most accurate sonic reproductions possible.” Their recent issue of Elvis Costello & The Attractions‘ 1981 LP, Trust, is on the platter today.

Strangely, this album was issued out of sequence. MoFi started releasing EC’s albums in their current Original Master Recording™ format a few years ago in their original chronological order, starting with ’77’s My Aim Is True and running all the way up through ’84’s Goodbye Cruel World, but skipping Trust until now. I actually wrote the company about this when they went straight from Almost Blue to Imperial Bedroom – WTF? – and their answer was your typical non-committal reply. Regardless, it’s here now and I’m really enjoying it. By 1981 Costello had mastered his then strong suit of writing clever, biting lyrics and the Attractions had honed their ability to communicate his songs with power and sometimes restraint to a fine point. Trust, produced by Nick Lowe with Roger Bechirian, contains great songs that cover all of Costello’s categories: hard power pop like “From a Whisper to a Scream,” film noir like leadoff track “Clubland,” and solo piano courtesy of Steve Nieve on “Shot with His Own Gun.” As always up until that point, the rhythm elviscostello-trust-rearsection of non-brothers Pete Thomas (drums) and Bruce Thomas (bass) serves the songs so well it’s pretty amazing that the songs don’t get credited to the whole band. Oh, don’t get Elvis started on that! (I’m curious if he addresses any of this in his new autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.) I think, despite favoring Armed Forces for years as my favorite EC&A album, that Trust actually covers more ground.

This reissue, as noted above, is a Mobile Fidelity release and as you might expect should sound better than the original. Once again, I don’t have a first-issue US or UK vinyl version to compare it to, but it’s a sure bet that this MoFi release is miles better than the original 1981 Columbia (US) pressing. It’s definitely better than the early 2000s Rhino CD, with a wide soundscape that allows all the different elements to sparkle and stand out – occasionally a little too much, like with the cymbals and high-hats of “New Lace Sleeves” or “Lovers Walk,” though those toned down after repeated listening. Thomas’ drums explode on the songs where they should, as does Thomas’ bass, which represents some of his best playing ever. I hope you’ll, ummmm, trust me when I say this is a classic album and should be in your collection.
4/5 (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

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