Elvis Costello is popular music's most prolific genius. Four albums in two and one-half years are only part of what he's been up to. Between albums he's kept himself busy, and his fans happy, with a flow of new singles and other projects. It's not easy or cheap to keep up with Elvis, but it's always been worth it.
Now, only five months after Get Happy!! Columbia Records has seen fit to gather up the products of Elvis' moonlighting and give the public a fifth album, Taking Liberties.
There are 20 songs on this album; 17 have been previously released in one form or another — mostly as B-sides of singles, British-album-only cuts and promotional items.
In a sense, it's a nice gesture to his fans, or potential fans. How many people want to hunt up imported 45's or pay for them?
On the other hand, the motives for this album's release look suspiciously less noble. It appears that it's Columbia Records who is "taking liberties" with Elvis' contract.
This album has the markings of a product the artist wanted nothing to do with. The characteristic care in packaging is absent; in fact, the front cover photo is left over from the Hollywood High EP session and the sleeve photo is circa Get Happy!!
But more importantly, Elvis' interest in this sort of package seems unlikely. He has always released his singles in a very thoughtful and careful manner; to slap them all together here seems to bow to monetary rather than artistic motives.
But aside from that, the album is mostly new for many buyers. The material stretches over three years, a couple of different bands and a lot of musical attitudes. As an album, it is a bit herky-jerky. Although, such diversity, if a bit distracting, also makes it clear that there is nothing Elvis doesn't do well.
He handles Country and Western (George Jones recorded his "Stranger in the House" in 1979), Rhythm and Blues (like Van McCoy's "Getting Mighty Crowded") and a variety of conventional and less-conventional rock and pop forms. I once saw Tony Bennett do Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" on the Tonight Show. Well, Elvis' version is better.
There is one new song, "Clean Money," on the album, and those who have heard Linda Ronstadt massacre "Girls Talk" and "Talking in the Dark" can hear how the real thing sounds.
If you've been able to keep up with all Elvis has offered, Taking Liberties will only whet your appetite — and an album and tour are expected in January. If you haven't been keeping up, regard this like any other Elvis Costello album essential.