With Out Of Our Idiot, Elvis Costello jettisons sanity and good taste to offer us his second ragbag of rarities, oddities and out-takes. Like its predecessor, Ten Bloody Marys (alias Taking Liberties), Idiot collects together B-sides, alternate takes, pseudonymous excursions and contractual obligations. The results are alternately brilliant and bizarre, enlightening and annoying — prime Costello, in other words.
The "various artists" credit on the deliberately appalling sleeve illustrates just some of the noms-de-guitar that Costello has utilised over the last decade. A dozen musical styles are similarly marshalled for this collection of 17 tracks (21 on the CD). And although few of these performances would make a realistic Costello "best of," they prove that where most modern artists struggle to fill a 12" single, Elvis has songs to spare.
"Seven Day Weekend" opens the album, with rock's only "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7" count-in. This energetic duet with Jimmy Cliff appeared on a U.S. film soundtrack and single, but never before in Britain's. Also previously unissued is Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons' throwaway "So Young", from the Armed Forces sessions; and, on CD only, the equally forgettable "Little Goody Two Shoes" from the "Imperial Ballroom" studio dates in 1982.
Everything else has appeared before, though often in obscure places. "The People's Limousine" was the A-side of the Coward Brothers' only single, a rockabilly duet heavily influenced (how heavily, we'll never know) by Costello and T-Bone Burnett. "Blue Chair" was another A-side, this time a remake of a highlight from the Blood And Chocolate set. And the jaunty "From Head To Toe" was a minor hit in 1982, treating the Motown song as a dancehall standard.
"Turning The Town Red" was the theme tune to Channel 4's Scully, in which Elvis also had a minor acting role; "Heathen Town" and "The Flirting Kind" were B-sides from the same general period. More recent B-sides offer similar gems, like the rewritten "American Without Tears No. 2", soulful "Get Yourself Another Fool", rockabilly "Baby's Got A Brand New Hair-Do" and "Black Sails In The Sunset" — which stayed in the can for six years before appearing on a single in 1986.
"Shoes Without Heels" is another out-take from the King Of America sessions, while Imperial Bedroom was leftover from the LP of the same name — as was "The Stamping Ground", a whining piece of mock-folk originally credited to "The Emotional Toothpaste."
Completing the album are two tracks that didn't originally appear on Costello records. His duet with Nick Lowe on the Shirelles' "Baby It's You" was a Lowe B-side in 1984; while Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice", produced with a disappointing lack of flair by Allen Toussaint in 1984, was included on the various artists set, Every Man Has A Woman — a compilation of Yoko's songs by other artists.
Besides "Little Goody Two Shoes", CD buyers have the pleasure of "Withered And Died", originally a flipside of an Imposter single in 1984; "Big Sister", leftover from the Get Happy sessions and first issued in 1982; and finally Costello's last single, "A Town Called Big Nothing" — credited to "The Macmanus Gang" and taken from the soundtrack of the spectacularly unsuccessful film, Straight To Hell.
Out Of Our Idiot would win few prizes for consistency or cover design. But no other artist currently recording would have the nerve — or the material — to issue an album like this. The prolific output which makes Elvis Costello a collector's dream also makes him one of the most fascinating rock artists of the last three decades.