In my often unfulfilled quest for great rock music outside the perimeter of what's considered popular, once in a while I come across a mainstream artist who's really worthy all the acclaim he gets. Such is the case with Elvis Costello.
Taking Liberties consists of various unreleased tunes. B-sides of singles and other assorted knick-knacks which accumulated during Elvis' short career. I've shelled out close to $20 for all the singles, and when I heard that Columbia was going to release this little ditty my jaw nearly hit the floor. So much for the rabid collector!
I'm not complaining. though. This is the best new album I've gotten since Get Happy!!, El's last classic. Even the ridiculous liner notes and the dated cover shot (nearly three years old) can't detract from the raw genius Elvis exhibits on these twenty tunes. What knocks me out is that these were the songs that didn't even make the regular albums.
Though they aren't arranged chronologically, the songs hold together remarkably well. There is more diversity here than on any other previous Costello albums. Soul ballads, manic rockers, and country tear-jerkers all mesh into a tight, cohesive package. In a way, this is the quintessential Elvis sampler, touching on every color of his musical rainbow, and even revealing a few new shades of the Costello kalaidescope.
The irreverent romanticism of "Hoover Factory" and the naked honesty of "Just a Memory" display a more direct, less intellectual style of writing. Elvis has a lot of trouble leaving his brains at home when he goes to the studio, and the absence of dense psychological imagery on these two recent tunes may signal an attempt to move towards less paranoid and more commercial pastures.
The album also contains interesting alternate takes of "Clowntime Is Over" and "Black and White World." the latter being acoustic. Besides borrowing from other artists, he also steals from himself. "Big Tears" is really "Less Than Zero" sideways with a lead guitar thrown in. "Clean Money," uses about half the lyrics from Get Happy's "Love For Tender."
Due to the sheer abundance of material Elvis writes, some of it is saved for single flipsides, and some of it ends up collecting dust in Columbia's vaults. Releasing this album isn't really taking liberties, because the consistently high quality that permeates this record is perfect justification for its release. The next disc of all new material is scheduled for January release, so Taking Liberties will probably keep me from ripping out my hair waiting till then.