Plundering the tea chest down at Riviera Global, the one marked Collector's Items, Elvis slings together an aggregation of B sides, promo items, giveaways, alternate takes and miscellaneous offcuts, unwittingly affording the Costello-watcher the opportunity of comparing the Nick Lowe produced material on which his reputation was built with the more tentative, somewhat vulnerable timbre of his first attempts to take charge of the recording process.
Three previously unreleased cuts; "Clean Money," a mediocre romp of uncertain vintage; a mocking, rearranged "Black And White World"; and "Hoover Factory," a highlight of his early stage act, here making its first officially sanctioned appearance on wax and sadly lacking the clipped black humour of the 1977 edition.
Obscurities include "Girls Talk," destined to be for ever overshadowed by Dave Edmunds' version, a remodelling of "Clowntime Is Over," the Brinsley Schwarz tune "Peace, Love And Understanding" (originally attributed to "The Nick Lowe Sound"), "Crawling To The USA" from the soundtrack of Americathon and two tracks, "Wednesday Week" and "Talking In The Dark," both of which make more sense now, in the light of Get Happy! than they did on their original publication immediately prior to Armed Forces.
It's evident that Lowe and engineer Roger Bechirian are more confident in their handling of the band's sound than Costello himself. The artist is more comfortable overdubbing and using accompaniment sparingly. Witness "Doctor Luther's Assistant," "My Funny Valentine" and "Just A Memory"; his singing is strangely confidential and unexpectedly effective. "Big Tears," "Radio Radio" and "Tiny Steps," on the other hand, represent the pinnacle of '70s record-making, with four instruments and one voice welded together into a genuine wall of sound; precise, fervent and even majestic.
It remains to be seen whether such powerplay tactics still have a place in Costello's game plan. The Fun Forty will be the poorer without them.