Declan Patrick Aloysius Macmanus (a.k.a. Elvis Costello) has been turning heads in the music business ever since the release of his first album, My Aim Is True in 1977. Many tours and 13 albums later comes the comprehensive retrospective of his work entitled Girls, Girls, Girls.
Although The Best Of Elvis Costello was released in 1985, it opted more for the hits and provided only a glimpse of Costello's vision. Girls, Girls, Girls contains songs from most of Costello's major releases except 1989's Spike.
The album was originally released in Costello's native country, Great Britain, some months back. Columbia records has just released it on this side of the Atlantic.
Girls, Girls, Girls was compiled with Costello's input, unlike the 1985 package. This double CD contains 47 songs and liner notes on each of them by Costello. The tracks are not arranged in chronological order which allows a new evaluation to be given on most of them as they are being cast in a different light.
For example, Pairing 1977's "Watching The Detectives" with 1986's "I Hope You're Happy Now" illustrates how Costello never seemed to lose his bite as time went on. His "angry young man" persona did not soften. "I Hope You're Happy Now" is every bit as vicious and hatred and guilt-driven as his earlier work.
The inclusion of the liner notes is eye-opening sometimes. In the notes for "Oliver's Army" (from 1979's Armed Forces album) he writes, "This was going to be exiled to a b-side until illuminated. by Mr, Nieves "Dancing Queen" piano part." After reading that, I went back and listened to the song again and for the fist time heard Abba's "Dancing Queen" in there!
Over and over again, each track on this collection never ceases to stress the diverse wit and talent of Elvis Costello. In this collection, many of his influences are easily spotted.
"Brilliant Mistake" (from the 1986 album King Of America) is probably his most overt attempt at a Bob Dylan comparison. Though the song's acoustic arrangement and rough phrasing strongly recalls Dylan, the wit is all Costello's. "She said that she was working for the ABC News. It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use," sings Costello in his characteristic sarcastic whine.
His slower songs often recall vintage Motown backed by Burt Bacharach-type arrangement such as 1984's "Love Field" where he sings about being "lost in a sea of imaginary women."
Costello even succeeds in a crooner or two in the mold of Frank Sinatra (although this is not to say he can sing anything like Sinatra) like 1986's "Poisoned Rose."
Later period Beatles influences can be heard in Costello's 1982 artistically claustrophobic "Beyond Belief." That song taken from his ultimate Beatles influenced record, Imperial Bedroom. Then there are other straight pop confections like 1979's "Accidents Will Happen" which recalls a lighter Beatle-esque influence.
1986's "Loveable" shows Costello's understanding of the roots of rock If roll and his ability to write some great rockabilly. "Loveable" is one of two songs co-written by Costello and his wife, Cait O'Riordan of The Pogues. The other song is "Tokyo Storm Warning" from the Blood And Chocolate album.
Throughout Costello's career he has tried many different genres such as soul and country.
There are examples of Costello's unique ability to blend Motown soul, pop and rock musics together to create a biting new sound. "Possession," "High Fidelity" and "Riot Act" (all from 1980's Get Happy album) represent some of this style.
One of the most noticeable things about Girls, Girls, Girls though is the absence of his country experiments. Whether this was Costello's decision or not isn't clear, tracks such as "Big Light" and "A Good Year For The Roses" are missed.
The combination of pop and rock 'n' roll/punk energy is Costello's strong point though. Songs like "Mystery Dance," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Pump It Up" are pure classics.
Although rocking songs with such obscure imagery like "smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity" (from 1981's "Strict Time") may not seem clear, but they provide enough kick and passion to convey Costello's convictions.
Political songs like "Shipbuilding," "Less Than Zero" and "Tokyo Storm Warning" are also included on Girls, Girls, Girls. In the latter, he sings about society's disposable attitude. The song still hits home, "What do we care if the world is a joke? / We'll give it a big kiss / We'll give it a poke... We're only living this instant."
In 1983's "Pills And Soap" Costello takes a bitter look at the press where be sings, "They talked to the sister, the father and the mother / With a microphone in one hand and a checkbook in the other."
Girls, Girls, Girls has an enormous amount of excellent music on it from oat of the most commercially underappreciated people in the business. From the stunning ballad "Alison" in 1977 to the Hendrix-style fuzz rocker, "Uncomplicated" in 1986, Girls, Girls, Girls rates as a simply incredible retrospective.
Aside from the strange deletion of Costello's country excursions, Girls, Girls, Girls succeeds in displaying the wit, anger and diversity of one of the most prolific and influential figures in rock since possibly Bob Dylan and/or The Beatles.