Elvis Costello is easily the best thing to have come out of the New Wave. Looking a great deal like Buddy Holly with a migraine, rock's master of scorn has an uncanny knack for catchy melodies, and a sharp ear for pop-hooks.
His lyrics, in sharp contrast to the basically upbeat tempo of the music, ring of cynicism. Elvis' backup band, the Attractions, rank with Rumour and the E Street Band as the premier in rock n' roll.
Until recently, it was difficult for a fan to compile a complete collection of Elvis Costello's work. Besides recording four excellent albums in slightly over three years, a remarkably prolific rate for a songwriter-performer, Elvis has also released numerous singles, the B-sides of which rarely appear on any album. Most of these singles were never released in America, and are available, if at all, only as high-priced imports in rare record shops.
But now, this frustrating, and expensive, search is over. Columbia Records has seen fit to release Taking Liberties, a compilation of twenty previously unreleased Elvis songs, B-sides, and limited edition singles. All of it, though, is vintage Elvis Costello.
While listening to Taking Liberties, it is fascinating to compare Elvis' versions of his songs with the most popular renditions others made famous. For example, Elvis' "Girls Talk," cannot match the intensity of Dave Edmunds' nor the irony of Linda Ronstadt's. His country-flavored "Stranger in the House" equals Rachel Sweet's version, while he bests his own "official" rendition of "Clowntime is Over," found on the album, Get Happy, with an improved, much tougher performance.
Other highlights on this record include "Clean Money," a rocker, and the pop-oriented "Black and White World," both previously unreleased.
And then there are the oddities, such as Elvis' excursion into funk with the late hustler Van McCoy's "Getting Mighty Crowded," as well as Costello's surprisingly straight rendition of Rogers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine."
Of course, there are bound to be throwaway tunes on an album of this sort. But overall, Taking Liberties successfully fills in the gaps in the career of one of rock music's most important and talented artists.