Intriguing to see the way this album has been reviewed by other periodicals so far. Short and snappy, the assessment has usually been vague but favourable. One aspect of Liberties' release however is that, with twenty items from the Costello
songbook spanning some four prolific years, the harried Costello fan can pause and actually weigh up the pros and cons of the man's work to date.
All eras are showcased here. The earliest Costello (as opposed to D P MacManus) recordings like "Radio Sweetheart" and "Stranger in the House" that were, for one reason or another, left off My Aim Is True, certain of El plus the Attractions' first forays — "Chelsea", "Night Rally" (both to be annexed from the U.K. cassette-only version released Nov 7 where "Watching The Detectives," "Radio Radio" will take their place whilst "Peace, Love & Understanding" also replaces "Sunday's Best") and "Big Tears" from the Model sessions whilst "Tiny Steps," "Clean Money," "Crawling To The USA," "Wednesday Week" and "Talking In The Dark" are all out-takes from the Armed Forces sessions. Finally, Costello-produced items like alternative cuts of "Black & White World" and "Clowntime is Over" join ranks with marginally post-Get Happy recordings like "Gettin' Mighty Crowded," "Just a Memory," "Ghost Train," "Dr Luther's Assistant," "Girl's Talk," and "Hoover Factory," not forgetting the exquisite reading of "My Funny Valentine."
The actual editing-together of this sprawl of obsessive virtuosity is worth giving a ten out of ten to, because it balances out the numerous stylistic deviations and pinpoints certain striking inconsistencies.
Where the earliest cuts — "Radio Sweetheart" and "Stranger In The House" — have not merely retained their initial clout but now sound even better, a lot of the Armed Forces era stuff — "Wednesday Week," "Sunday's Best," "Talking In The Dark" ring false, being far too busy and over convoluted. Elvis once stated that his biggest fear was of "repeating himself in diminishing echoes" and the sad fact is that these songs are the sound of a man feverishly pushing himself on to avoid the long downward spiral of self-parody.
Of course, this should not betaken as a generalisation — "Chelsea," like "Detectives" and most of the Model tracks for that matter, is a stunning creation with the Attractions providing a devastatingly cock-sure back-up. Even when the songs are second-rate — "Crawling To The USA" and "Clean Money" — the Attractions bring the hammer down with a vengeance.
The self-produced songs are possibly Liberties' strongest suit for release. Costello slows down "Clowntime Is Over," strips away all superfluous embellishments and presents one with a song that, like "Motel Matches" and "New Amsterdam," demonstrates just how easy it is to ignore a brilliant song under the sheer tonnage of material available. Here, Costello hasn't lost a thing. He's better than ever, the underlying fear of inspiration being drained, forcing him to metamorphose into what Danny Baker described as "a piano wire drawn so tight that to release, could result in an almighty snap."
"Hoover Factory" — the only truly original and hitherto unobtainable item included here — addresses Costello's own hang-up with a poignancy and grace that undermines that "snap" factor. "It's not a matter of life or death / What is? what is? / It doesn't matter if I take another breath / Who cares? who cares?" croons Costello. voicing his essential credo. There is the same resignation here that characterised "Alison" and "Just a Memory," that same tinge of sadness that ultimately grants Costello the human factor he's sometimes tried to dash against those feverish outbursts which now form his own caricature. Liberties' release could be purely down to financial matters, the Columbia record deal and all that that might entail but I seriously doubt it. I'm glad I've got the record end I don't feel shortchanged. I see no reason why you should feel differently.