This 18-track album, put together in Britain in 1985 but released here now in anticipation of his December tour, is really not the best of Elvis Costello. How could it be when it contains stiffs like the simpering "I Wanna Be Loved" and the Nashville sausage-machine country of "Good Year for the Roses" at the expense of powerful songs such as "King Horse" and "I Want You"?
However, it is a good indication of the man, reflecting at once his sheer brilliance and his talent for making occasionally disastrous musical and career judgments. Indeed, because the tracks do not run chronologically, Costello's roller-coaster career is presented starkly here. Thus, the confident Kraftwerk-influenced "Green Shirt" immediately precedes the unfortunate crooning of "Everyday I Write the Book," the latter highlighting the dreadful period in 1983-84 when Costello went all out to be a pop star and failed. Given that, this becomes an interesting — but not compelling — collection for afficionados.
In the final analysis though, while it's pleasing to see Liberation taking over the Costello catalogue and promoting it strongly, this album could only be regarded as a primer for the uninitiated. Those who are fans don't just like Costello: they love him, and while they are relatively few in number there would be absolutely no need for them to buy this record. That said, however, it should be pointed out that anybody who values the 20th Century song form really cannot afford to be ignorant of Elvis Costello. For that reason alone, this is a worthy release.