ICE, July 1994
Costello reissues continue; Elvis discusses
Rykodisc's Elvis Costello reissue campaign continues August 30 with the release of 1981's Almost Blue and 1982's Imperial Bedroom. Once again, each is loaded with extended play bonus tracks, many of them previously unreleased. The Almost Blue bonus material opens with five songs recorded live in Aberdeen, Scotland: "He's Got You," "Cry, Cry, Cry," "There Won't Be Any More," "Sitting And Thinking" and "Honey Hush." The Aberdeen performance was recorded at a hard-core country & western club, done for a British television documentary on the making of the album. The bonus tracks continue with the Palomino Club version of "Psycho" (the B-side of "Sweet Dreams"), "Your Angel Steps Out Of Heaven" (the B-side of "Good Year For The Roses"), "My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You" (the B-side of "I'm Your Toy"), a Nashville version of "Tears Before Bedtime" (later re-recorded for Imperial Bedroom), the unreleased "Darling You Know I Wouldn't Lie," and "I'm Your Toy" recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall on January 7, 1982.
The bonus tracks for Imperial Bedroom open with five songs from sessions at Matrix Studios: "From Head To Toe" and "World Of Broken Hearts" (issued together as a single), plus the unreleased "Night Time," "Really Mystified" and "I Turn Around." Next is another version of "Seconds Of Pleasure," which first appeared in demo form as a bonus track on the recent Trust CD and would eventually evolve into the Punch The Clock song "Invisible Man." Two more demos from Pathway Studios follow: "Stamping Ground" (issued as a B-side) and "Shabby Doll." The extended play section closes with "Imperial Bedroom" (B-side of "Party Party"). There's also a good possibility Imperial Bedroom will carry two secret tracks, not listed on the package. As usual, both CDs feature new, reflective liner notes by Costello.
Just before Costello took to the road with The Attractions in support of his new Warner Bros. album Brutal Youth, ICE had a chance to speak with him from his home in Dublin, Ireland. During the interview, Costello talked about his approach to preserving and presenting his back catalog.
When I listened to the first three, I was pleasantly surprised with the second two.The first one I find hard to listen to — and have for a long time — because I hear the halteringness of it, where I'm trying to find a vocal style that fits the song. But I can understand what other people like about it. I don't hear it as being this raging record that people write about, whereas I think the second two, particularly Armed Forces, came up sounding much better than I remembered, because everything has gotten so much more slick since that time. What I thought of at the time, and what was regarded as an incredibly sophisticated, produced record compared with This Year's Model, now sounds like a really rough-around-the-edges thing in a most attractive way.
When it came to the next record, Get Happy!! had always been among my favorite three or four albums that we'd made together, but actually out of those two I now prefer Trust. I don't know why, maybe because I just never heard it with a clear head. I'd always been prejudiced because, physically, it was a very tough record to make, just because I made it hard on myself personally. And now, with a distance from the unpleasant experience of actually doing it, I can hear the music. I think it has quite a lot in common with the new record in terms of a balance between incoherent rock 'n' roll music and structured songs. I don't think the abandoned rock 'n' roll stuff on Brutal Youth is as deliberately incoherent as "Luxembourg," but it's the same sort of "let go" music that "20% Amnesia" is. And yet there are songs like "You'll Never Be A Man" or "Shot With His Own Gun" which have the same sort of relationship as "London's Brilliant Parade" or "Favourite Hour."
Funnily enough, we're just working on the process of reissues through Rykodisc and these last two days I've been at home going through my own little archive of tapes. As you know, we've added a few things, sort of EPs, to the ends of these reissues. And now, because I'm going to be away most of the year, I'm sort of preparing [the rest of the] reissues.
Some completists have pointed out that the first five reissues are missing an occasional B-side.
There's a rule book about this. The sort of philosophy I picked up from working at Stiff, and we carried over to Radar into F-Beat and now to Demon, has always been that if you weren't there, then you missed it. And there's a very good reason why certain things were never available again; they're not any good. Or, if they were, they were only good in their time and context, and I think they can be replaced by other things, which are only of passing interest anyway. I wouldn't be interested in reissuing any of these records if I didn't think most of them stand up on their own without the existence of these EP sections. The EP sections were conceived to reflect what we used to have with vinyl, which was free singles and free EPs like with [the earliest pressings of] Armed Forces.
This is the "once and forever" kind of edition for the foreseeable future with these EP sections. The thing I didn't want was [the case with] the first Beach Boys reissues, where the extra material came immediately after the last track on Pet Sounds, which really pissed me off because I'd like the record to end as I remembered it ending. I don't want it to end with a different song. So we [preceded] the EP sections with a [bit] of silence. It gives you time to make the choice of getting up and turning it off. In lieu of having a flag which flips it out of your player — we can't do that for you yet — you have to get out of your chair and turn it off, if you don't want to hear that acoustic sort of song which you may only want to hear once. But I'm not bothered. I think I'm making Ryko's job a little harder by the fact that they're going to have a few people, who perhaps are more concerned with these oddities than is healthy, asking them why they didn't get a 12-inch remix or something. Well, they're not going to get them, because they're crap.
And they can still be found on vinyl.
Yeah, and they're not that interesting. Anything that we don't put out now, I really, genuinely think I'm right in saying that it's not that interesting. I think the stuff that I've put on in its place is more interesting, or you just haven't heard it before, so even if it is deathless, it's certainly not on its way to being as moldy.
You said there's a formula for hit songs that you know, but choose to ignore. Was there ever a time when you tried to employ that formula?
I think the producers paid more attention to it than I did. We used Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley on Punch The Clock particularly, and made "Every Day I Write The Book." I've found an extraordinary version of that song, the way it was originally written, which sounds much more like "Do You Want To Know A Secret." I'm hoping I can find a decent-generation copy of it, because it's completely different, much more lighthearted. It never would have gotten on the radio like that, because it didn't have the rhythmic thing that was sort of contemporary at the time. But to my ears, "Every Day I Write The Book" dates because of that. I don't mean to [denigrate] the efforts of those producers, but I tend to be less fond of those couple of records we made around that time. They haven't dated as well as some older records or some I've made since which didn't really obey any kind of contemporary production rules.
I stand by every record, whether it's good or bad. I know the ones that I'm more fond of, but I'm all the time coming across somebody who'll tell me that a record that I don't care for much, like Goodbye Cruel World, happens to be their favorite, because of some personal reason. If they dig it, who am I to tell them it's not any good? And I know that there are very good songs in there, somewhat locked up in the production of the day. In these little EP sections, my job is to either find some things — some of which have been available before — which add a little humor to the picture, or actually throw a different light on the way that record might have gone. It's not for everybody, but if you're going to buy a record that's twelve years old, you want to get good value for your money. [We're adding] something that's going to be interesting, but you don't have to listen to it every time. You don't have to listen to any record all the way through.
What about assembling a definitive live package beyond Live At The El Mocambo?
There's been a few little live fragments here and there, but in terms of a definitive live album it would be quite hard. For one thing, I don't personally have the patience to go through the hours and hours that we have, trying to find the definitive "Watching The Detectives." Maybe that's for when the plane goes down; that's what I always say. My insurance policy.
I assume you don't want to do a conventional boxset.
I don't know whether Ryko wants to do it, but we're discussing the possibility of an album package that would replace Girls Girls Girls in the catalog. The reason it was released, and the way it was titled, came from the same motive as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear. That's why it's called what it's called. Consequently, I think I can probably do it with a bit more grace nowadays. I'd like to do it again, the same sort of inquiry into the catalog. Something that has some sense to it, that's personal to me, and annotated. Maybe slightly more coherently, but annotated in one way or another, whether frivolously or seriously. Certainly not by somebody else, and certainly not having somebody tell you what a genius I am, because you have to make up you own mind whether I'm an idiot — or what — by listening to the songs. Me, or anybody else, telling you whether they're good isn't going to change your mind. More to the point, it isn't going to change the record.
It would provide a starting point.
Putting these records out is one thing, but [it remains to be seen] whether people buy Brutal Youth and then get curious to hear Blood & Chocolate or some other record that they've read in the reviews is the last record where this sort of sound was on offer. There are some people who are too young to know about This Year's Model or [someday will be] too young to know about Brutal Youth or Blood & Chocolate. But if you buy a compilation that has some sort of coherence to it, you may be encouraged to buy King Of America, Imperial Bedroom or some record that doesn't give up its secrets as easily.
ICE, No. 88, July 1994
ICE interviews Elvis Costello about the Rykodisc reissues.