Roaring out of the London pub-rock scene with songs of "guilt and revenge", Elvis Costello seemed to burn with more rage than the entire punk contingent together. Since then, he's shed more artistic personae than David Bowie, ending up most recently as composer of a semi-classical song cycle.
Meanwhile, his back catalogue has been available only in sub-standard CD packages. But that's all about to change, with the release of the first in a series of retrospective packages from Demon Records, who have the rights to Costello's past outside the U.S. (where Rykodisc are doing the honours).
In the shops now is 2½ Years, a four-CD box set that includes the first three Elvis LPs, My Aim Is True, This Year's Model and Armed Forces, plus a first-ever (legal) commercial release for the classic promo set, Live At El Mocambo.
Like the giants of the 60s, Costello's early LPs were released in different configurations in Britain and America. The new set irons out those variations, adding bonus cuts to the original U.K. line-ups. My Aim Is True comes with singles and a bunch of Elvis's early 'Honky Tonk' demos, only previously available on bootleg. Tracks like "Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver)" and "Wave A White Flag" will make their long-overdue debut, more than 15 years after they were first broadcast on Radio London.
This Year's Model boasts bonus cuts like "Crawling To The USA" and "Radio, Radio" — plus three unissued demos, "Greenshirt", "Big Boys" and the previously unheard "Running Out Of Angels". And Armed Forces wraps up songs from singles, freebies and the original giveaway live EP, Hollywood High.
Completing the set is El Mocambo, the cult reputation of which apparently baffles Elvis; but he's bravely bowed to commercial demand.
All the CDs have been digitally remastered, and the set comes with the usual trappings of excess — a lavish book, rare photos, and notes from the man himself. The three studio sets will also be on sale individually, but El Mocambo is only available via the box — or by sending coupons from the three other CDs to Demon.
Accompanying the release is a 10-track promo CD, 2½ Years In 31 Minutes, including two of the unissued tracks (the "Greenshirt" demo and "Poison Moon").