Elvis Costello: The Deep Album Cuts Box Set

Last month, I made up an imaginary Superchunk box set in anticipation of their new album, partly because they'll probably never have a real one. With Elvis Costello's album with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost, which is pretty good, out next week, I thought I'd be a good time to do another series of mixes, although obviously Elvis Costello already has some box sets out there. The idea I'd always had, though, was to divide up his output by decade -- not necessarily all in chronological order, just lumped together so that I can dart around each period and draw connections. That thought appealed to me because it gives ample room for the 3 albums he made in the last 3 years of the '70s that remain his best and most popular work, but I've always found a lot to enjoy in the less heralded '90s and 21st century work that a lot of fans tuned out for that it'd be fun to highlight (and the '80s is of course an embarrassment of riches, his busiest and most varied decade of work).

This collection is also part of my deep album cuts series, because while Costello is critically respected as an 'album artist,' he's always been an ace singles artist no matter how well he's actually doing on the pop charts. So even his widely acknowledged masterpieces are sometimes overshadowed by their hits, while many of his later albums are still mostly known for one or two well selected singles that end up representing them on the endless procession of best-of compilations.

Elvis Costello: The Deep Album Cuts Box Set

Disc 1: The 1970s (Spotify playlist)
1. Mystery Dance
2. No Dancing
3. You Belong To Me
4. Green Shirt
5. Living In Paradise
6. Pay It Back
7. Radio Sweetheart
8. Miracle Man
9. Wednesday Week
10. Two Little Hitlers
11. This Year's Girl
12. Big Tears
13. Tiny Steps
14. Stranger In The House
15. Crawling To The USA
16. Talking In The Dark
17. Party Girl
18. Hand In Hand
19. Welcome To The Working Week
20. No Action
21. Clean Money
22. Goon Squad
23. Blame It On Cain
24. The Beat
25. Big Boys
26. Lipstick Vogue
27. Waiting For The End Of The World

Disc 2: The 1980s (Spotify playlist)
1. King Horse
2. I Hope You're Happy Now
3. New Lace Sleeves
4. Secondary Modern
5. Jack Of All Parades
6. Crimes Of Paris
7. Tramp The Dirt Down
8. Almost Blue
9. Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
10. The Greatest Thing
11. Worthless Thing
12. Black And White World
13. ...And In Every Home
14. Uncomplicated
15. The Imposter
16. Big Sister's Clothes
17. Tears Before Bedtime
18. American Without Tears
19. Love For Tender
20. You'll Never Be A Man
21. Blue Chair
22. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
23. Home Truth
24. I'll Wear It Proudly

Disc 3: The 1990s (Spotify playlist)
1. Rocking Horse Road
2. Jacksons, Monk And Rowe
3. Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?
4. Couldn't Call it Unexpected No. 4
5. The Long Division
6. Pony St.
7. Shallow Grave
8. How To Be Dumb
9. Clown Strike
10. This House Is Empty Now
11. Please Stay
12. Painted From Memory
13. Still Too Soon To Know
14. Starting To Come To Me
15. Sweet Pear
16. Tears At The Birthday Party
17. Just About Glad
18. I Want To Vanish
19. I Still Have That Other Girl

Disc 4: The 2000s (Spotify playlist)
1. Bedlam
2. Spooky Girlfriend
3. Turpentine
4. I Dreamed of My Old Lover
5. The Sharpest Thorn
6. Country Darkness
7. Dissolve
8. Drum And Bone
9. Button My Lip
10. My Little Blue Window
11. The Sharpest Thorn
12. The Court
13. She Handed Me A Mirror
14. Ascension Day
15. For The Stars
16. You Left Me In The Dark
17. The Judgement
18. My Three Songs
19. Episode of Blonde
20. The Delivery Man
21. The River In Reverse

The '70s playlist was the easiest to make because I know all that music by heart, having bought his first three albums in sequence pretty closely together when I was 16-17 years old. That was a huge formative experience for me, and it was also by that point the late '90s, so he already had a large catalog to work through. And I ended up jumping around and finding a lot to enjoy in the later albums without having too much anxiety about the fact that he'd never again be as exciting or consisting as he was in the first three years of his career. The 1980s are obviously his busiest decade, just an insane embarrassment of riches from 9 albums, most of them well revered and even the worst of them possessing some jams. I'd actually never made time to sit through all of Goodbye Cruel World before this, and I have to say I quite like it -- more than Punch The Clock, and probably more than the majority of the albums since.

Having gotten into Elvis Costello when All This Useless Beauty and Painted From Memory were recent, I have a soft spot for those records, particularly the latter, which I think is probably his best album of the last two decades. Aside from the Bacharach album, I'd generally gotten used to the typical attitude of checking in with Costello for the 'rock' albums and avoiding the overly ambitious genre exercises and collaborative albums, which in retrospect seems like a mistake -- I really enjoyed listening to the albums with The Brodsky Quartet and Allen Toussaint and so on, picking out highlights. When I Was Cruel was always an uneven, overhyped album with some great moments, and now I enjoy it more for its drum machine and loop experiments, his last flirtation with modern sounds and grooves for about a decade before this album with The Roots. The Delivery Man is pretty great, but it was followed by diminishing returns of several similarly rustic and rural-sounding records, as if he'd finally settled into just exploring one direction instead of darting around from one extreme to another. In that sense, Wise Up Ghost is pretty exciting, just to hear the old dude still trying some new things after 35 years. Hopefully I'll have enough of this decade's output to do a 5th playlist someday.
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