All in all, it's probably not a good time to be literate. Much of what's generating the most heat and sales in music today is sound and fury ironically, what Elvis Costello was selling nearly two decades ago.
He has always been musically and lyrically sophisticated, but the wordplay and noise of the past have been replaced by subtlety, nuance and grace.
The result is to keep him yet again two or three steps ahead of the pack so far ahead, in fact, that All This Useless Beauty might fade without a ripple.
It may be too tame for alternative rock radio, and maybe just a little too clever for Triple-A radio as well. That would be a tragedy, but then, it has happened to Costello before.
Drawn from songs Costello has given to other artists over the years as well as containing some brand-new tracks of his own, All This Useless Beauty is perhaps Costello's strongest collection of songs outside of his best-of packages.
In the past, Costello's best work has been thematically joined (King of America) or was written in one creative burst (Blood and Chocolate, This Year's Model).
These songs, on the other hand, have nothing in common except that they're almost without exception remarkable pieces and they're all performed by Costello and the Attractions.
Oddly enough, this full-on reunion with the Attractions has yielded an album that doesn't really sound like Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Anyone expecting the fury of This Year's Model or the somber mood of Imperial Bedroom won't find it here.
All in all, the album will only enhance Costello's reputation as rock's most important songwriter after Dylan.