Since his first appearance out of Britain a decade ago, Elvis Costello has been an unusually prolific composer. So prolific, in fact, that not everything he does finds its way onto albums.
Occasionally, every man must clean out his closet. Out of Our Idiot is Costello's version of house-cleaning, but this collection of outtakes, b-sides, extra LP cuts and extracurricular activities is more interesting that some artists' greatest hits.
By its very nature, this generous 17-cut album (21 songs on compact disc) swings wildly in theme and style. There's everything from a propulsive collaboration with Jimmy Cliff, to quiet covers of Richard Thompson and Burt Bacharach tunes.
The diversity is a strength. Costello has shown his love for many styles of music during his career, but rarely have they all been represented on a single album.
A few gems from the King of America sessions surface. The rocking "Baby's Got a Brand New Hairdo" and the ballad "The Flirting Kind" both originally appeared as b-sides to singles. But most entertaining is "The People's Limousine," credited to the Coward Brothers, pseudonyms used by Costello and T-Bone Burnett.
Covers range from Smokey Robinson's playful "From Head to Toe," to Thompson's sorrowful "Withered and Died."
What's particularly fascinating is the rare look at how songs evolve. "Blue Chair," one of the best songs from the Blood and Chocolate album, appears here in a speeded up version recorded with a different band.
Costello also went into the studio last year to record a new set of lyrics updating "American Without Tears" from King of America.
Some songs, of course, are better left on the cutting room floor. Compact disc purchasers may wish to avoid "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)," a spaghetti Western that gives Elvis' dad, Ross MacManus, the chance to play his trumpet.
For Costello fans, Out of Our Idiot is purely a treat. The uninitiated may take longer to appreciate the record, but they could do far worse.