The bad new is that The Very Best Of... "includes personal favourites selected for this collection by Elvis Costello." The good news is that they're probably the same things you would have picked yourself. Phew! No gruelling lessons in classical music with The Brodsky Quartet, then. Not much country music. No film scores. Not a huge amount off his recent Warner albums, either. A bit of Burt Bacharach, but that's fair enough. Above all, a whole load of family favourites from his first half-a-dozen LPs. It's not the first time Costello has been compiled for posterity and it certainly won't be the last. But, for now, it's the very best summary of his 22-year recording career that anyone could hope to find.
Whatever personal involvement Costello had in the project, it's been chosen with a realistic eye to public taste. The immediate marketing angle is "She," the warbly old French song that should have been the big hit single off Notting Hill, just as Wet Wet Wet had the big hit single off Four Weddings & A Funeral. Alas, Costello is not to be this year's Marti Pellow: She reached a modest Number 19, with the top honours taken by Ronan Keating trilling some other load of old tripe. But even a modest Number 19 is good going for Costello these days, who was not a regular chart contender even when he was making the songs we seem to remember as colossal successes. By and large they weren't, apart from "Oliver's Army," "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and, curiously, "A Good Year For The Roses."
Many less celebrated pleasures lie in wait here. "Riot Act," "Man Out Of Time," "Brilliant Mistake" and the deceptively avuncular "New Amsterdam" are each as toothsomely melodic as "Alison" (itself a popular classic that never molested the Top 20 in its day). "I Want You," from Blood & Chocolate, is hypnotically creepy, like something a serial killer would whistle before going out to work. The recent Burt Bacharach collaborations, represented by "God Give Me Strength," suggest the best news of all: that he's got as much left to give as he's already given.