In honor of the British pop star, who celebrates his 46th birthday this month, we listen to this first batch of albums in Rhino's reissue series that showcases Costello's entire catalog. Each reissue includes a bonus disc of goodies.
My Aim Is True (Rhino)
My Aim Is True was Elvis Costello's debut, and it's as stunning now as it was back in 1977. Costello proved immediately to be one of his generation's best songwriters with prickly songs that wisely lifted from Americana, Tin Pan Alley, reggae and punk.
The Angry Young Man snarled his way through several cuts, showing that vitriol can be smart, funny and wise. But, it was the deceptively tender "Alison," the quirky reggae punch of "Watching the Detectives" and the bravado of "(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes" that showed Costello's brilliant range. He tempts listeners to sing along merrily and also take him seriously, musing with him over vicious, comical barbs.
This edition includes witty, self-deprecating liner notes penned by Costello as only he could do. It also includes, like all the reissues, an entire disc of rarities, including a nifty "Dallas version" of "Less Than Zero."
Spike, from 1989, signals style shifts for the ever-changing Costello, who was at the time exploring life without the Attractions, the backing band he began working with on album No. 2.
Spike, you could say, is plagued by Costello's restless energy. It is a hodgepodge of ideas: New Orleans jazz, rockabilly, fresh pop. Costello penned the standout, charming "Veronica," with another songwriter from Liverpool, Paul McCartney.
In new liner notes, Costello admits that he had ideas for several different albums at the time. Feels like it. Though it's not as focused as Costello's more masterful work, Spike is ambitious and nervy, filled with his signature cynicism — this time swipes are aimed at Mother England. And, you gotta love an album with a finale called "Put Your Big Toe in the Milk of Human Kindness." Bonus disc contains demos and a weird cover of "You're No Good."
All This Useless Beauty (Rhino)
The criminally ignored All This Useless Beauty, from 1996, was Costello's final hurrah with the Attractions. The album consists of several songs he had written for other folks, but never himself recorded. It's another genre jumble, from the melancholy ballad title track to the trip-hop It's Hard. Bonus disc includes an Eno collab, a Tricky remix and a demo version of the suave "The Only Flame In Town."