"I'm never going to stick around long enough to churn out a load of mediocre crap like all those guys from the 60s," Costello sneered as he planted his flag with I977's My Aim Is True. Much like Roger Daltrey and his desire to die before he got old, Costello had no intention of honouring his career suicide pact.
Surviving by virtue of the fact that he never quite belonged in any one scene or genre, the passing years have seen the thick-rimmed songwriter evolve from thorn in the side to hardy perennial; his pipe-cleaner physique filling out to complement the comfortable feel of his later material, and only the odd barbed lyric barring him from gold membership of the club chaired by Clapton, Collins and John.
Accordingly, it's a foolish Costello novice who opens their collection with the latter-day hits packages that are waiting in the wings. The First 10 Years are the best, with his songwriting vision as clear as his eyesight was bad, his politics unmuddied by personal wealth, and his music as smart as anything released between '77 and '86.
This Best Of proves there wasn't anyone who covered as many musical bases as Costello, opening with the gorgeous Byrds-ian pop of '77's "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and barbed smoocher "Alison," experimenting that same year with reggae on "Watching The Detectives" and '78's "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea," and engaging head and feet on stone-cold classics like "Oliver's Army." The decade ended, and the new wave movement grew old, but the gems kept coming, notably on the lilting "Good Year For The Roses" and the funky "Everyday I Write The Book." By 1986's "I Want You," Costello still hadn't put a foot wrong.
David Lee Roth once claimed that "rock critics like Elvis Costello because they look like Elvis Costello". No, Dave — we like him because, when he's on form, there's nobody to touch him.