King of America [Expanded]
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Unlike the other installments of Rhino's ongoing Elvis Costello expanded reissue series -- started in the summer of 2001 and only now coming to an end in the spring of 2005 -- King of America is not release as part of a set of three albums. It is released on its own, reportedly because the album is Costello's personal favorite and so he and Rhino wanted to spotlight via a stand-alone release. That makes a certain amount of sense but bear in mind, there is only one other album in his 1977-1996 catalog that has yet to be reissued in this campaign and that is his 1993 collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet The Juliet Letters, which isn't exactly his most beloved album, and wouldn't have made a good companion to King of America, which certainly is among his best-regarded and best-loved albums. Fittingly, King of America has been given a generous 21-song bonus disc, a lengthy new set of liner notes from Costello and, in a series first, slightly altered cover shot (the black and white photo of Costello in a crown, which was once sepia-toned, now has shades of color, so his cheeks are now a rosy red and there's gold highlights on the crown). Of these 21 songs, 11 appeared on the 1995 Rykodisc/Demon reissue -- the two sides of the Coward Brothers single ("The People's Limousine," "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me"), the demo "Suffering Face," the outtakes "Shoes Without Heels" and "King of Confidence," plus a covers-heavy set of six live tunes that was initially released as a bonus disc in '95 -- leaving 10 new songs. Of these, the highlights are a stark solo reading of Richard Thompson's thoroughly depressing "End of the Rainbow" and the bitter, politically-charged "Betrayal," a song cut with the Attractions that would later mutate into Spike's "Tramp the Dirt Down." The rest of the new cuts are all solo demos, many of which were recorded on the verge of extreme drunkeness according to Costello's liner notes. Unfortunately, to the average listener they don't sound like they're on the verge collapse, they merely sound like straightahead, mildly interesting demos that are the kind of thing you listen to once and then file away (which applies equally to unreleased songs like the torchy "Having It All" and to such alternate versions as an early, bittersweet version of "I Hope You're Happy Now" (which would surface later in '86 on Blood & Chocolate and "Deportee," a reworking of "Deportee's Club" from Goodbye Cruel World). Of course, Costello fanatics will be happy to hear these rarities -- which are, by and large, quite good, even if they wouldn't warrant frequent plays, since they're curiosities more than forgotten treasures -- but most fans that own the Ryko/Demon reissue don't need to replace their copy with this new reissue, since with the possible exception of "Betrayal," all the major songs here are on that previous incarnation of King of America. Plus, the cover art looks better on that '95 edition, too.