This anthology is both wonderful and terribly disappointing. This collection of Costello's best-known album cuts shows how many faces this rock 'n' roll Lon Chaney has mastered. It includes the vitriolic "Radio, Radio," which still sounds like his finest moment; the exquisite lounge music of "Shipbuilding," which features a solo by jazz trumpeter Chet Baker; and the pungent political commentary of "Oliver's Army."
What Costello does best, though, is write and sing songs of personal passion. This sampler includes such outstanding passionate Costello music as his cover of the soul tune "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," as delightfully clownlike as Buster Keaton, and "Everyday I Write the Book," his lush MTV hit.
By concentrating on his best known tracks, the album passes up some of Costello's most gripping singing, notably the towering "Riot Act" from Get Happy! But the purpose of such an anthology is, after all, to get people to buy his other albums by luring them with the hits. It would be impossible to fit all of the man's essential music on one record.
Unfortunately, Columbia did not show the same care in packaging this record that Costello displayed in making these songs. The album contains no liner notes. It doesn't identify which albums the individual songs come from. It doesn't even identify the members of the Attractions — pianist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Peter Thomas. This careless packaging is a real disservice to one of the finest singers of our era. In the end, it's lousy marketing not to tell people where to go for more.