Deseret News, July 13, 1996

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Costello reclaims some tunes —
and his voice is up to the task


Jeff Vice

It's about time that Elvis Costello reclaimed some of his more memorable songs for himself.

Costello hit a long creative dry spell after releasing two albums, King of America and Blood and Chocolate, in 1986, one that subsided only after 1994's Brutal Youth. But he wrote many of his best compositions during that period for other people and with them, including Aimee Mann, Sam Moore and Roger McGuinn.On All This Useless Beauty, his best album since King of America, Costello remakes seven such songs, along with five other originals. And despite the age of some of them, they sound beautiful and altogether not too useless.

Of course, much of that has to do with the fact that Costello (whose real name is Declan Patrick McManus) actually has to sing this time out. And he really seems up to the challenge.

"Why Can't a Man Stand Alone?" which was written for Sam Moore but rejected, is a moody midtempo R&B ballad. That would have proved to be a problem for Costello in the late '70s and early '80s, when he was still England's "angry young man," but the older and wiser Costello really caresses the chorus, vocally.

Similarly, "Starting to Come to Me" gets an aptly low-key vocal approach from Costello, while Steve Nieve's piano work gives it just the right melodic touch.

Speaking of Nieve, he and the other members of long-time Costello sidemen the Attractions (drummer Pete Thomas and bass guitarist Bruce Thomas, no relation) have joined Costello again for this outing. Adding much-needed restraint to the songs, which for Costello have been getting bottom-heavy in recent years, their contributions can't be overlooked.

Not to slight Costello, though. This is definitely his show, and here he sounds like he's having the time of his life.

He playfully mocks Johnny Cash by stealing his vocal style for "Complicated Shadows," which was written for Cash but was ultimately rejected. Elsewhere, his opening guitar work for "It's Time" recalls the Byrds - a tribute to Roger McGuinn, who performed the song first.

The album isn't without at least one clinker, though. "Shallow Grave," written with Paul McCartney, is foiled by a gimmicky arrangement and duff lines like "throw another Joan on the blaze," a tasteless jab at Joan of Arc.

However, one dud can't sabotage Costello's triumphant return, especially one that has numbers as good as "The Other End of the Telescope" and the surprisingly subdued title track.

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Deseret News, July 13, 1996


Jeff Vice reviews All This Useless Beauty.

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