Out of Our Idiot is an assemblage of odds, ends, sods, bits and bobs released with little motive apparent, other than pure archival altruism on the part of El's record company; Remnants from b-sides, collaborations and 12-inch fillers worked for The Smiths and R.E.M. So why not? The spine says "Various Artists", the label says Napoleon Dynamite, Emotional Toothpaste, Declan MacManus, the vinyl says Drop Everything, Costello, the King of Everywhere, is here.
Costello's 'proper' albums (Blood and Chocolate, Imperial Bedroom et al) usually suffer from the same recurring bug-bear, namely routine brilliance. It's hard to be objective when you know you're doing the right thing. When Costello's muse is viewed out of context, however, it becomes marginally easier to analyse the man's peculiarly mythic brilliance. Ten Bloody Marys (the previous catch-all compilation) allowed us to do this with the young Costello, the New-Wave crown prince, skinny and snarling. Out of Our Idiot on the other hand, gives us the full, fleshed-out prophet, a man at the peak of his powers, someone who can blow away his cobweb competitors without even drawing breath.
Jackdaw yes; stylistic kleptomaniac, sure. It's all been said before. Costello has the original musical photographic memory, with more melody in his left earlobe than McCartney has in his entire carcass (perhaps they should get together ha ha...) More than anything else, Out of Our Idiot highlights the breadth, depth and scope of Costello's range. Spinning kaleidoscopically from genre to genre as if the word "miscegenation" had never been coined; "Seven Day Weekend" is the Northern Soul classic that never was: Nick Lowe joins The Man for a rundown of "Baby, It's You" coyly reversing the girl-group archetype in favour of the hard-lovin' man; Yoko Ono's only — fine — moment "Walking On Thin Ice" is given a suitably glacial treatment as Costello strains his voice into twisted Oriental pipings and the Attractions pair their accompaniment down to minimalist essentials: "From Head to Toe" out-slushes The Clash's "Crush On You" whilst "Baby's Got A Brand New Hairdo" re-establishes the classic Costello sneer.
What binds this ceaseless eclecticism together to the constancy of Costello's vision. The lyrical surfaces are as bitter as yesterday's coffee, his veneer of cynicism blisters paint at fifty paces and the sturdy wordmanship leaves even the most thesaurus-bound at the starting line, but beneath it all lies the desperation of love's elusiveness and a realization that the oldest of cliches can be as new as next week. The accusations of misandry and nihilism constantly levelled against Costello fail to stick because they are the easiest of responses: the source or his inspiration is gender-transcendant, as his musical origins are diverse, far-flung and unconcerned with the hide-bound traditions of rock purity.
But even taking into account the scope of its achievements, Out of Our Idiot is ultimately a holding operation, designed to keep Elvis' profile just above the subterranean level. Costello and the mass-marketplace may seem about as compatible as Hitler and salt beef but even the happiest of villages must have their idiot. Costello is the biggest fool of all.