Before Maestro MacManus reappears this autumn with his classical album, here three of his classic mid-table works are offered for our delectation.
Inspired by Stax, and invigorated by his liaison with the Specials, the first, Get Happy! still bursts with invention, ram-packed with 20 tracks (expanded here to a breathtaking 50 — count 'em!).
A rocked-up Sam & Dave B-side, "I Can't Get Up For Falling Down," trailed the album and was indicative of what was in the wrapper. With hardly anything clocking in at over three minutes, it bristles by, lifting and stealing from soul greats; "Secondary Modern"; "5ive Gears In Reverse"; the beautiful "High Fidelity." As a fantastic romp it closed the pop star phase of Costello's career. Bonuses include a version of "I Stand Accused" with a tremolo guitar figure that shakes your speakers, a storming canter through "Girl's Talk" — closer in spirit to Dave Edmunds' version than his original — and a Farfisa-sodden "From A Whisper To A Scream."
Trust is the great lost Costello album. It marked the sound of a man and his band in transition, wanting to break free from pop's straitjacket. Away from the trophy songs ("New Lace Sleeves," "Shot With His Own Gun"), the album contains some of the greatest EC throwaways ever: "Lovers Walk," and "From A Whisper To A Scream," a duet with Glenn Tilbrook, who sang the guide vocal for Costello when his voice packed up. There's a great swagger through Larry Williams "Slow Down," a try-out for "The Long Honeymoon" and a shouting-out-loud version of "Watch Your Step" among the bonuses here.
After the dazzling brilliance but lack of commercial returns of Imperial Bedroom, Costello clocked on at being a pop star again. He turned to smoulderingly hot producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who had recently overseen Dexys' Too Rye Aye. Working with overdubs instead of a live feel, the resulting album, Punch The Clock, from 1983, is now viewed with disdain by the hardcore, which is rum when you consider that it's almost identical to Imperial Bedroom. The Dexys brass section and Afrodiziak's backing vocals made it his biggest selling record since Armed Forces. Sonically, it's a beat album, with the horn refrain of "Let Them All Talk" blasting it off in style. However, there were razorblades in the bouquet.
His paean to long term love, "The Greatest Thing," was a response to the hatred that he felt for Wham's "Young Guns Go For It"; yet his marriage was crumbling and lines like "Just one shameful act or maybe two, we make believe we're making do" ("Charm School") evaporate any optimism. He also presents his two best political lyrics, "Pills And Soap" and "Shipbuilding," which never fails to deliver the appropriate emotional punch.
Punch The Clock is still the same upbeat triumph it was in 1983 with Costello playing the pop star from an older, wiser perspective. He is generous with his material — there's almost too much here — complete as always with exhaustive sleevenotes. It reminds us all of the often complicated, sometimes useless beauty of being young.