CMJ New Music Monthly, July 1996

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CMJ New Music Monthly

US music magazines


All This Useless Beauty

Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Douglas Wolk

Elvis Costello has referred to his chosen pseudonym as a "brand name," and he's become about the most consistent product line in rock: cranking out a pretty good collection of hyperverbal songs every year, with no noticeable surge or lapse in quality. All This Useless Beauty is basically Mighty Like A Rose V, or Armed Forces XVI — aside from details of arrangements (like the breakbeat behind "It's Time"), we shouldn't expect too much that's novel from the Little Hands of Concrete. A few songs are Costello-by-numbers ("Little Atoms" is the cousin of the old "Little Palaces," and "Poor Fractured Atlas" was called "Poor Napoleon" last time); his singing has mostly ossified into a set of tics, some of which are annoying but most of which are just comforting. But it wouldn't be an Elvis Costello album without a couple of great songs, either — the heart-wrenching "Other End Of The Telescope," originally written for 'Til Tuesday (!), is beelining for his next greatest-hits album. And some of the retro idioms from Kojak Variety seem to have stuck: "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone" is an over-wordy try at a Southern deep-soul ballad, but "Shallow Grave" is a fantastic, sinister jump-blues-gone-rock tune. Elvis will probably never again make a classic album, but he'll also never make a poor one.


CMJ New Music Monthly, July 1996

Douglas Wolk reviews All This Useless Beauty.


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Cover and page scans.


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