Fifteen years after this stunningly productive era in Declan MacManus' life, two things are clear: (1) Rock has never again been this defiantly exciting, and (2) despite the volume at which he said it, Costello didn't really have much to say.
The songs on this four-CD boxed set, consisting of Costello's first three Columbia albums (plus bonus tracks) and the oft-bootlegged Live at the el Mocambo, March 6th 1978, remain deliciously appealing because they had great melodies, and because Costello delivered them for all he was worth. He was a "punk," but he could write and play like the legitimate musicians who were sticking the life out of late-'70s pop music with their narcoleptic professionalism.
Costello's talent and ambition quickly transcended the sweaty, snarling form captured so thrillingly on the el Mocambo disc, and more's the pity, because with each Imperial Bedroom and Blood and Chocolate he began sounding more and more like the professionals he once mocked.
No danger of that with this box. "Pump It Up," "Lipstick Vogue," "Radio, Radio," "Mystery Dance," "The Beat" — you get one essentially meaningless rant after another about anger, angst, revenge and disgust set to the pounding rhythms of the Attractions, the best band of its time, The bonus tracks are mostly familiar, except for the quirky acoustic demos on My Aim Is True, which show that Costello came from a broader frame of reference before plunging into this 2½-year romance with rock's last rebellion,