"Elvis Costello: If he didn't exist someone would try to invent him," boasted an early tour poster for the legendary songwriter.
Rhino has re-released Costello's first two albums, My Aim is True and This Year's Model.
My Aim is True, which first appeared on early U.K. punk label Stiff Records, is the album that made Costello a star. Fortunately, Rhino hasn't needlessly fiddled with the recording to make it sound cleaner; the raw charm of Costello's early songs is still present on the album, enhancing the songwriting.
Aim starts off with the bitter "Welcome to the Working Week" continues in a smooth groove, each song seamlessly flowing into the next. Then "Alison" comes on and kicks you in the teeth. It's one of the finest songs ever written and retains its strength after more than 25 years.
Costello's vocals and quiet guitar work sound warm because of the light-handed production of Nick Lowe. The album, which closes with the eerie "Watching the Detectives," is one of the strongest debuts of the 1970s.
The notes in the disc, written by Costello, trace the origins of his career and his songs. The bonus disc contains early versions of songs from other albums.
My Aim is True brought Costello much-deserved recognition; This Year's Model solidified his status as a rock 'n' roll icon. The album marks the debut of the Attractions, which performed with Costello for many years.
The album features songs about women and life as a pop star, as well as an angry anthem against the music industry. Although the production on this album is also minimal, it is a little slicker than the previous record.
The songs and Costello's wit remain razor sharp, as evidenced by "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea." But the standout is definitely "Radio, Radio," released exclusively on the American version. Costello's angst has always been subtle, but in "Radio" he's firing with both guns blazing. That's obvious in the final lyrics, "And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools / Trying to anesthetize the way that you feel."
Once again, Costello writes the liner notes, this time describing the formation of the Attractions and the chaotic first performance on Saturday Night Live, after which he was told he would never appear on television again.
The bonus disc is a little more stacked this time, with demos, alternate versions and several live tracks. Be sure to check out the cover of The Damned's "Neat, Neat, Neat" with a dub tinge.
The verdict: If you consider yourself a music lover, you will sell your blood to buy these re-issues.