Elvis Costello may be a torch-song sophisticate now, but here we are given the opportunity to review his diary entries from 1977 to 1986 all over again, serving as an appropriate reminder as to why he enjoys quite so much musical freedom today. Over three boxes, his 35 singles (including freebies) are reproduced in facsimile sleeves complete with tidy booklets with sleevenotes by old Demon cohort and RC contributor Alan Robinson.
Box one — from "Less Than Zero" to "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" — when Costello truly was a singles artist, allows us to peek once again at his innovation, anger and deft work with a melody. "Pump It Up" and "Alison" are still both breathtaking in their bile, using opposite ends of the musical spectrum to convey a similar message.
Box two — from "High Fidelity" to "Pills And Soap" — chart the time of his first major commercial fall from grace, and his subsequent growing-up in public. Although "Party Party" (one of the handful of tracks previously unreleased on CD), will always be, in Costello's eyes, his most despicable instance of writing to order, I still think it's great, paving the way for the Dexyfication of Punch The Clock.
The final collection — from "Everyday I Write The Book" to "A Town Called Big Nothing" — highlights the problem faced by so many established artists at that time. It is encapsulated perfectly here in six words: "Pump It Up (1984 Dance Mix)" (B-side of the so-far-out-of character-it's-amusing "The Only Flame In Town"). As a result, Costello retreated into Americana and his original beat roots. The full circle of "Blue Chair" and vitriol of "Tokyo Storm Warning" close the proceedings and find him in rude health, off to enter his Warners years.
Given that these boxes will always be collector's trophies as opposed to never-off-the-turntable smashers, these are worthy shelf-fillers, delightful for any discerning dad's stocking.