The many moods of Mad McManus (a continuing saga). Elvis Costello And The Attractions, Elvis Costello And The Confederates, the Costello Show, The Imposter, the Coward Brothers (is he Henry or Howard? Or was it Noel or Cole?). The Emotional Toothpaste, Napoleon Dynamite And The Royal Guard. Paul McCartney (not sure about this one), and now the most suspect identity of the lot …. Various Artists. Is it any wonder that many learned analysts suspect the man of having a severe identity crisis?
To tell the truth, I'm not sure I'd subscribe to this theory, because however he tries to disguise himself, however much he changes his band or producer, or records other people's songs, Costello has a Midas-like way of making everything he touches absolutely and unmistakably his own. Take the single version of "Blue Chair" included here – yes, it's a tribute to Booker T And The MGs, but at the same time it sounds as though it's taking off Elvis himself in his Get Happy phase. The same goes for the Attractions (and let me state here that the only way I'd pay good money to see Bob Dylan live is if The Attractions were his backing band) … listen to "Blue Chair" and it couldn't be any other band. Well, in fact, it is another band entirely, except Steve Nieve is on keyboards, but you see my point.
So what's the point of subterfuge? Within this cheap and gaudy sleeve is a selection or pure Costello culled mainly from B-sides, odd singles and featuring one measly unreleased track, "So Young," an unspecified cover recorded in 1979. The oddities here are "Seven Day Weekend" written and sung with Jimmy Cliff, a US single from a Peter O'Toole movie called Club Paradise; the lacklustre "Turning The Town Red," from the Scully TV series; the alternative "American Without Tears" (now apparently set in December 1965 in Caracas); the Coward Brothers' "The People's Limousine" in which EC and T-Bone Burnett make like the Everlys singing Bob Dylan's "5147th Dream" a soppy "Baby It's You" crooned with Nick Lowe; and finest and strangest of all, an impassioned cover of Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice," produced by Allen Toussaint and taken from an improbable "The Stars Salute Yoko" LP.
Needless to say, it's a variable feast, with thin gruel like "The Stamping Ground", and other songs which rank, among his finest ever (like "Black Sails In the Sunset," presumably from the Trust sessions). Everything you could hope for, except "Party Party."
Ideally, what the Elvis junkies of the world need now is a studio set featuring the best and/or unlikeliest covers the man's performed live over the years, from "All You Need Is Love" to "Sign Of The Times." But failing that, and dodgy bits notwithstanding, this latest batch of Hail Mary's and How's Your Fathers is a treat. Our Idiot, Who Art in Brentford, blessed be he. (8)