Columbia Records released a "new" Elvis Costello album this month by picking up scraps from the floor of his recording sessions, melting them down and sealing them in cellophane. The collection consists of English album cuts, B-sides, and unreleased masters. All the artist had to do to cash in on the deal was make a phone call, as shown on the cover.
Costello hates American Capitalism but loves our money, and has no qualms about Taking Liberties with U.S. legal tender. The encroachment is blatant but his fans buy the album anyway. The raw honesty that bleeds in Costello's lyrics is the commodity that attracts his audience in the first place. No one is being fooled. Elvis Costello has achieved a fame giving him license to sell his second-best material.
The 20 songs on Taking Liberties vary wildly in style and quality. That is to be expected, since they were lifted from different periods in Elvis' career and were rejected for inclusion on his four U.S. albums. On the album there area couple of real finds, about a dozen fair-to-middlin' tunes that may grow on you. and a few that should have been swept away by the janitor.
The biggest surprise was Costello's excursion into the Motown 60s sound in his rendition of Van McCoy's "Getting Mighty Crowded." It came as quite a shock to hear the moody, introspective Costello bouncing through teeny-bopper lyrics. This song probably should have replaced "Motel Matches" on Get Happy!! his last studio album. The other gem is Costello's most successful British single "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" that Columbia Records audaciously withheld from American audiences. The company was afraid the British references in the song would go over the heads of listeners in this country. So what? The music speaks for itself for this listener. Insistent drums carry exuberant enthusiasm through strings of reggae fits and starts. "Chelsea" is one of Costello's more energetic songs.
Among the moderately successful efforts included on the album is "Clean Money," a song made for Get Happy but not released. The music was cut roughly, but serves as a boisterous driving force behind biting lyrics.
There is a problem with the words in "Clean Money," though. Puns crowd too tightly together and their meaning gets wadded up into a ball. Lyrics pass so quickly and concisely that there is no time to really hear them. To solve this, the artist expanded the words to form a new song. "Love For Tender, included on Get Happy
Elvis Costello is at his lyrical best when he finds a pun to build a song around and create a motif. In this song he suggests that tenderness is a negotiable commodity we use in relationships:
I pay you a compliment,
You think I am innocent.
You can total up the balance sheet,
But never know if I'm a counterfeit.
A couple of wayward jaunts into unexplored territory defy critique. Costello released a completely straight rendition of "My Funny Valentine" as the B-side of a red Valentine's Day Promo Record. Even stranger is a country tune called "Stranger in the House" that Elvis penned for George Jones to cheer him up after a car crash and a divorce (from Tammy Wynette. apparently Jones and country music have influenced Costello's music. The only other recorded example is "Radio Sweetheart," one of his earliest songs complete with steel guitar which carries a sentimental, if simplistic twang.
Four songs that should be shot are "Dr. Luther's Assistant," "Just a Memory," "Ghost Train " and 'Clowntime is Over". The latter is a remake of "Get Happy". A song that is strictly an endurance test.
Another "Get Happy" remake, "Black and White World" didn't fail so miserably, but one would question what they are doing on the album at all.
Some of his very early material was squelched because of harsh lyrics: "Tiny Steps," "Big Tears," and "Hoover Factory" was hurt badly by heavy-handed sound effects.
Three fun tunes that work well as a triple are "Sunday's Best," "Crawling to the USA," and "Wednesday Week." The quality of these and the rest of the album is generally pretty high, though it falls short of his studio albums. The music is of B-side quality.
"Taking Liberties"is a patchwork hodgepodge of unrelated material. It lacks focus, cohesiveness, purpose, and consistency. Vastly differing sounds vie for your attention, and no final impression is made. There is no whole, only bits and pieces. It is a collection to add to your collection.
Columbia says Costello will be ready with a new album "early next year and he may tour the States agin to promote it.