Prolific and unpredictable, Elvis Costello had an unremittingly dazzling beginning. Along with Van Morrison, Costello is the only act of merit not already boxed up, and this four-CD set launches the most ambitious career reappraisal since Bowie's EMI CD reissues. Included here are his first three albums, along with chronological bonus tracks, a 16-page booklet and Elvis Costello's first official live album.
The bravura triumphs which fill those first albums all emphasise the sheer rightness of Costello back then: the swaggering 'Mystery Dance' and 'No Action'; the intoxicating wordplay; the brash confidence. This is Elvis from the start and there is plenty of actionand quibbles. Any one of 50,000 Elvis fans will already have Live At El Mocambo, and the official Taking Liberties and Ten Bloody Marys... compilations have already swept up B-sides and non-album tracks. Which only leaves the widely bootlegged Honky Tonk Demos and two unissued songs.
El Mocambo is a storming souvenir of Costello & The Attractions at their live best: 'Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver)', the earliest extant Costello, recorded with Flip City In 1975; the six bedroom demos were recorded before Costello signed to Stiff. Solo and acoustic, The Bedroom Tapes include an extra verse of 'Mystery Dance', and the revealing 'Cheap Reward' (chorus of 'Lip Service' to the melody of 'Stranger In The House'). This Year's Model outtakes are demos of 'Big Boys' and 'Green Shirt', which misses Pete Thomas's thunderous drums, but gains an extra verse. There is also 'Running Out Of Angels', recorded on the run, an interesting tormented fragment.
All in all, while one would have hoped for more, there is no denying the individuality of these fingerprints on his imagination. ~ 8