Elvis Costello. People either love him or hate him. There aren't many people who say "Elvis Costello, yeah he's okay." Those who are enamored with Costello believe he is a prophet sent to the western world by the rock and roll gods. To his fans, Elvis is King. To his detractors, Costello is a sour-mouthed little wimp who sings off key and can't take a punch (Costello was decked in a bar by singer Bonnie Bramlett a while back for making racist remarks about Ray Charles.)
I agree Elvis Costello can be obnoxious and he usually does sing off key. (Elvis actually sings off key on purpose. He can sing in a smooth baritone when he feels the urge.) Elvis Costello is often a pop music genius, though, and genius's should be allowed to have their little quirks as long as they keep producing. And Elvis produces songs faster than they can be put on albums, and as a result we have Taking Liberties.
Taking Liberties is a compilation of 20 songs that Elvis recorded over the last few years which never appeared on any of his first four albums. The cuts come from various sources including British albums, singles and movie soundtracks. Surely, many Elvis Costello fans already have many of these releases but now they can listen to all of them (plus a couple of cuts never released) on one album.
I'm sure many people will probably think of this as an "Elvis Costello Rejects" album, when actually it has some of his best songs. All of Elvis's other albums had a single musical theme and style running throughout, but this one is different. It shows him at his diversified best. He strums pure country on "Radio Sweetheart," and "Stranger in the House" (also recorded by country music's own eccentric genius George Jones), rocks as hard as anyone on "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea" and "Clean Money" and sings a sincere and heartwarming version of the old Rodgers and Hart Standard "My Funny Valentine."
I don't think anyone really understands Elvis Costello. He is an enigma, and that seems to be the way he wants it. Despite all of his financial success and critical acclaim, Elvis Costello still fumes with anger at an unjust world. He'll always be pissed, much like Ray Davies of The Kinks, Pete Townshend of The Who, and Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. All of those mentioned above have a certain anger that has sustained them through the years. And it will sustain Elvis Costello, even If most people never learn to like him. That's okay, though, because he'll probably never learn to like us, either.