Under how many different names has Elvis Costello recorded? In just the last eight years he's done enough singles, one-offs, outtakes, and collaborations — credited to such quasi-artists as the Coward Brothers, Napoleon Dynamite & the Royal Guard, the Emotional Toothpaste, and the Costello Show-to fill an entire eclectic album. Like Taking Liberties and Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers, Out of Our Idiot is an essential collection of Costello's odds and sods, again proving (as if it were still necessary) that his also-rans are consistently better than most people's sure shots.
Although Declan McManus has yet to sing with Robert Zimmerman, he has nonetheless laid down a number of worthwhile duets, three of them featured here. "Seven-Day Weekend," with Jimmy Cliff, is a joyful juke jumper from the sound track to Robin Williams's lame Club Paradise. The Coward Brothers (a part-time outfit with T-Bone Burnett) drive up the country together in "The People's Limousine," while stalwart Costello cohort Nick Lowe takes the low part on an Everlys-styled arrangement of the Shirelles' classic, "Baby It's You." Costello and the Attractions put their best soul feet forward on Smokey Robinson's "From Head to Toe."
Out of Our Idiot's real treasure, however, is "So Young," a song written and originally recorded by Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, an Australian rock band from the seventies. The infectious blue-beat bouncer was evidently recorded for Armed Forces, but never released. Alternate versions of "American Without Tears" (with a completely different arrangement and all new lyrics) and "Blue Chair" (overhauled from Blood and Chocolate) further add to Idiot's significance and excitement value.
Other highlights are "Turning the Town Red," Costello's theme for a British TV series; "Shoes Without Heels," a country ballad featuring the Confederates; "Get Yourself Another Fool" and "Baby`s Got a Brand New Hairdo," both of which backed up the same `85 single; and "Imperial Bedroom," a critical look at wedding nights, from a B-side credited to Napoleon Dynamite & the Royal Guard.
Despite the across-the-board variety and the obviously diverse origins of these 17 tracks (21 on the CD), this Idiot actually hangs together like a real record. A real fine record. This man sweats $50 perfume. Elvis is king.