Elvis Costello
The Very Best Of The Warner Bros Years WEA

The Beloved Entertainer as Elder Pop Statesman, from Spike to All This Useless Beauty.

Much of Elvis Costello's Warner Brothers music is convoluted and opaque. We applaud his shooting for grown-up, capital-A art, but all the knotty, chamber arrangements on Spike and Mighty Like A Rose can't make up for the sore lack of memorable songs. When the experiments work, as on the gloriously shambolic waltz that is Couldn't Call It Unexpected No 4, our hats go off to him. But they don't work that often.
The best tracks on this collection (All The Rage, Sulky Girl, 13 Steps Lead Down) are inevitably those taken from the rougher-edged Brutal Youth. Their snarling directness and singable simplicity only emphasise the abstruseness of songs like I Want To Vanish and All This Useless Beauty. Nor is it easy to pussyfoot around the fact that Costello simply isn't a good enough chanteur to carry off pieces like The Birds Are Still Singing, the sole selection from The Juliet Letters.
One proviso, though. Anyone still capable of something as vital as the new The Bridge I Burned - a queer fish of a hip hop ballad with a heartbreakingly lovely chorus - can never be written off.
Barney Hoskyns