Thursday, April 22, 2010

Should Costello Call It Quits?

A few weeks ago over at Popdose, Jeff Giles wrote an entertaining piece called "Six Artists We Wish Would Retire." I immediately agreed with four of Popdose's choices. They were Prince, R.E.M., Sting and U2. I had no opinion about one of them. I'm just not familiar enough with LL Cool J to agree. The one artist I was on the fence about was Elvis Costello.

In full disclosure, for much of my life Costello was my favorite artist. I even bought all of his genre-hopping records such as 'North' and 'The Juliet Letters.' It was Popdose's contention Costello "started sucking" after 'Spike.' That meant he has put out sub-par work for more than 20 years. That's not possible, is it?

Let's go to the discography. 'Mighty Like A Rose' was the followup to 'Spike.' Up to that point I had only disliked one other Costello record. It was back in 1984 when 'Goodbye Cruel World' came out. It felt like the Attractions were sorely missed. Next was 'The Juliet Letters' with the Brodsky Quartet. All I could think was, please, bring back Steve Nieve. My prayers were answered in 1994 when Costello and the boys reunited for 'Brutal Youth.' I really liked most of the record, but I felt like it was too long and sort of ran out of gas in the second half. That's a feeling I wouldn't be able to shake on future records.

So, I continued this discography checklist and found many more nays than yeas. The others I liked were 'All This Useless Beauty' and 'When I Was Cruel.' I was lukewarm about 'Kojak Variety' and 'Momofuku.' Anything else from the '90s and '00s were records I owned but never (and I mean never) listen to. To sum up, in two-plus decades, I really liked three albums and sort of liked two others. This little exercise also brought me to the realization that he has been recycling quite a bit of his old material. He covered himself on 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,' 'My Flame Burns Blue' and others. As with instrumentals, this seems like a move from an artist that's phoning it in. I'm still not 100-percent convinced he should retire, but his more recent work shows this is not the Elvis Costello I grew up admiring.

Here are a few recent songs from his catalog that often make it on my Costello mixes. These are the ones that make it impossible for me to say "retire already!"

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Sulky Girl (mp3) from 'Brutal Youth'
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - It's Time (mp3) from 'All This Useless Beauty'
Elvis Costello & The Imposters - 15 Petals (mp3) from 'When I Was Cruel'
Elvis Costello & The Imposters - No Hiding Place (mp3) from 'Momofuku'
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Sticks and Stones (mp3) cover from 'You Tripped At Every Step' single

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