Thursday, August 26, 2004

Happy 50th Birthday, Elvis Costello!

I am an unabashed fanboy of far too many musicians, but Elvis Costello ranks right near the top for me (on any given day my top five musicians slide around, but Costello, the Beatles, and David Bowie are pretty constant elements no matter what).

I first discovered EC back around 1989 or so with his excellent underrated CD "Spike", picked up a greatest hits CD not long after that and have been a geekish admirer ever since of this most multi-faceted of talents. His raw intelligence and never-ending lyrical depth and musical variety always astound me, keeping him new every time I tune in. Avril and I saw him put on what remains one of the best concerts I've ever seen in my life, at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene in September 2002, and despite his occasional lapses (last year's narcolepsy-inducing "North") he remains an undeniable creative force.

By odd coincidence, just Monday I got in the mail the latest three Elvis Costello reissues in Rhino Records' amazing masters collection. These ultra-sweet packages for the obsessive remaster each of Elvis's albums with an entire bonus disc of rare tracks and a lengthy essay by the man as well. I've been getting every disc despite the wallet damage and now the program is almost through, just a few discs to go. The newest three discs aren't quite representing Costello's finest work — the country album "Almost Blue", the eclectic covers collection "Kojak Variety" and the album Elvis himself once called his "worst," 1984's "Goodbye Cruel World." Yet subpar Elvis is better than most artists' A-games, and so far I'm enjoying these discs, an added pleasure being that all three of them are new to me as I've held off buying them until these re-releases. So far "Almost Blue" is a pleasant surprise, a twangy alt-country gem that doesn't seem quite as shocking coming from Elvis now as it did upon initial release in 1981. "Cruel World's" tinkly synthesizer beats may be dated, but there's still some decent tracks on there, such as one of my faves, "The Comedians." Haven't really cracked into "Kojak Variety" yet, but with around 100 tracks between all three double-CD sets, you'll understand.

Anyway, happy birthday to the man and may he live another 50 years!

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