Tag Archives: Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Elvis Costello’s Albums 1986 – 1999

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A period of serious rebirth and artistic experimentation.  Along with the wider range of material Elvis released during this stretch you get a wider range of hit and miss as well.  There are heavier moments here, especially on Blood & Chocolate and Brutal Youth but for the most part you get a lot of mellow Elvis.  On top of all the music that he released during this period, Costello also curated Southbank Centre’s prestigious Meltdown festival in London in 1995.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_King_Of_America 1986 – The Costello Show King of America: This album is a rebirth in many ways.  Among those rebirths is his new love, Cait O’roirdon of the Pogues and the move away from using The Attractions as his sole musical accompaniment.  Instead he was able to hand pick musicians that fit his renewed vision.  This time that vision was guided by new friend and producer T-Bone Burnett.  This album signaled lots of changes, including a new bearded and publicly charming Elvis. Overall the Album has a great unadorned feel, but is also a bit over-indulgent.  His first album for Columbia records.
Elvis_Costello_Blood_Chocolate-150x150 1986 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions Blood & Chocolate: Back with Nick Lowe and The Attractions for another shift in focus to a more direct rock record from the loose subtle feeling of King Of America.  The recording for this album was purposefully stressful as Costello was trying to bring a little tension into the music, which added to the bands already mounting discontent.  At first glance it seems just another Costello/Attractions album, but listening to it now you will be suprised it was recorded in 1986 as it seems a bit ahead of its time.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Spike-150x150 1989 – Elvis Costello – Spike: A great solo album in the tradition of King of America and Imperial Bedroom.  Would be the album that includes the lion share of the material he worked up with Paul McCartney.  Elvis’s most instrumentally ornate album to date.  Featured more cherry picking of musicians.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Mighty_Like_A_Rose-150x150 1991 – Elvis Costello Mighty Like a Rose: Elvis seemed to have forgotten what he learned from T-Bone Burnett on this record as he just wouldn’t leave the material alone.  Elvis was getting heavily into classical music and experimenting with computers so the album has a very busy, over-tinkered feel.
Elvis_costello_Brodsky_Quartet_Juliet_letters-150x150 1993 – Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters: Elvis’s full on classical album with the very accomplished Brodsky Quartet.  A true collaboration between the two entities.   The album was based on a discarded project from a Italian professor in which he would respond to the thousands of letters that are written to fictional character Juliet Capulet.  An absolutely brilliant collaboration in which the Brodsky Quartet classes up Costello and Costello lends traditional pop song structures.  ESSENTIAL
Costello_Harvey_GBH-150x150 1994 Elvis Costello/Richard Harvey GBH: The original score for the British television show which stands for Grievous Bodily Harm.  Pretty much what you’d expect – instrumental music.
Elvis_Costello_Brutal_Youth 1994 – Elvis Costello Brutal Youth: Switching gears again, Elvis set out to do a raw rock record.  Originally just going to be just Elvis and Attractions Drummer Pete Thomas, but turned into an accidental Attractions reunion.  They pull it off again, releasing another solid record far past their prime.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Kojak_Variety-150x150 1995 – Elvis Costello Kojak Variety: Costello’s second album of covers, this time featuring a wider range of material.  Actually recorded in 1990, but not released until 1995. A pretty underwhelming release all around.
Elvis_Costello_All_This_Useless_Beauty-150x150 1996 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions All This Useless Beauty: Basically a pastiche of material that Elvis had written for other artists but wanted to reclaim as his own.  Most of the material is pretty weak and the production was purposefully wimpy.  This would be the last time Elvis works with Attractions Bassist Bruce Thomas and his last full record for Warner Bros.
Elvis_Costello_Bacharach_painted_from_memory 1998 – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach Painted from Memory: Full fledged collaboration with the pop standard legend.  They end up balancing each other out quite well even if you are biased towards Costello’s style. Bacharach was able to rain in Elvis lyrically and vocally while Elvis was able to add a little grit to Bacharach’s very glossy instrumentation and production. Released on Mercury Records.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1980 – 1985

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The first half of the 80’s were a very tumultuous period for Costello both musically and personally.  He keeps the 1 album a year pace here with the addition of a bonus covers record released in 1981.  Although he kept the pace this period was full of ups and downs and that is evident in the music.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_Get_Happy 1980 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!: Initial attempts at recording a follow up to Armed Forces failed, which led the band to try something different. Classic Soul songs were used as inspiration too much success. This release sees yet another label switch, this time to F-Beat. The Album features tons of great songs, and twenty tracks in all.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_trust-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust: On this record the songs are moodier and the material is more varied than past releases.  Costello had just released 4 full lengths in 3 ½ years, but the great songs just kept on coming. This album would be the last appearance of Costello’s original production team of Roger Bechiran and Nick Lowe.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Almost_Blue-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Almost Blue: Having tired of singing and writing his own songs, Elvis retreated to one of his greatest loves… Country Music. Costello’s first album made up of strictly covers which was half heartedly produced by legendary country music producer Billy Sherill. The combination didn’t gel and the album unfortunately falls flat. The second album released in 1981.
Elvis_Costello_Imperial_Bedroom-150x150 1982 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom: With the original titles Music To Stop Clocks, then This Is A Revolution of The Mind Elvis and band intended to go big.   This time produced by studio vet and wizard Geoff Emerick who learned his craft working with The Beatles. There was a lot of problems going on during the recording of the album but the band persevered.  What they ended up with was the most emotionally and musically sophisticated albums of their career.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Punch_the_clock-150x150 1983 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Punch the Clock: Produced by British New Wave hit makers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were sought out to try and capture a more commercial sound as Costello was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his album sales. The album is what you would expect, a glossy sometimes cheesy representation of the bands sound. There are still a few great songs despite all the horns and female backup singers.
Elvis_Costello_Goodbye_Cruel_World-150x150 1984 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Goodbye Cruel World: Once again produced by Langer and Winstanley, which is surprising when you consider how conflicted Elvis was during the recording of the previous record. The process was once again a challenge and very laborious. What you end up with is 2 good songs out of a very weak record overall. At the time of this record Elvis was nearing the end of his marriage to Mary, his love affair with Bebe, and his work with the Attractions (at least exclusively).

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1977 – 1979

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Declan McManus toiled away in his pub rock band Flip City and part of the duo Rusty during the mid 70’s.  Then punk hit and it gave him the impetus to become Elvis Costello and he hit the ground running releasing an album a year from 1977 to 79.  I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis-Costello-My-Aim-Is-True-150x150 1977 – Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True: Elvis’s debut, originally released on Stiff Records. First appearance of the production team of Roger Bechirian and Nick Lowe. Elvis was not backed up by The Attractions right out of the gate. On his debut he is backed up by the Stiff Records Rock Band in residence – American band Clover which was later known as Huey Lewis & The News. How bizarre! Contains some of Costello’s most loved songs including “Allison”, “Watching The Detectives”, and “Mystery Dance”.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_This_Years_Model-150x150 1978 – Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model: His first record with The Attractions and their signature keyboard driven sound. Written and recorded after their first UK and US tours. As you can tell from the record it is fuelled by a generous helpings of sex, drug, and Rock & Roll debauchery. Released on Radar Records. The great songs just don’t stop on this record which makes it my all time favorite Costello record.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Armed_Forces-150x150 1979 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces: A more sophisticated album, but still with a little edge.  This release dwells on military imagery, originally titled “Emotional Facism”.  A mixture of material dealing with both his failing marriage and his affair with American model Bebe Buell.  ESSENTIAL

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Complicated Shadows – The Life & Music of Elvis Costello

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This Biography on Elvis Costello was written by Brit music journalist Graeme Thomson and published in 2006.  Thomson is no stranger to the music biopic as he has written books on a couple of other luminaries such as Kate Bush and Willie Nelson.  He has also written for Esquire, MOJO, Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Time Out magazines.

This book brought me along on a journey through Costello’s recorded output and shined a light on his background.  The book has its weaknesses just like any, in particular my major complaints would be it wasn’t detailed enough and it was a pretty straight chronological reporting of his life up to 2004.  The major setback for the author was his inability to land an interview with the subject of the biography.  Even though the book suffers from not getting some imput directly from “the horse’s mouth” per say, he does a pretty good job reconstructing Costello’s history through other source material.  He then very resourcefully and resoundingly relies upon interviews with the other characters in Costello’s life and the deep catalog of established interviews and other material published over Costello’s then 30 year career in the music business.  The author focuses quite a bit on Costello’s the countless live shows and tours he has ventured on throughout the years, and although the information is much appreciated it gets a little heavy when he brings up slight set list changes that happened between dates.

The book very happily enlightened me to many aspects and happenings in Costello’s life.  I had always been a very cursory fan of Elvis since first hearing his music in the later 80’s, but I had become more and more interested after continuing to hear new and compelling compositions from him throughout the years.  Through this book I was able to re-experience his music from the beginning and give myself a depth of knowledge to what was going on in the background while all this wonderful music was being created and performed.  Among the aspects of Elvis’s life that gets a lot of coverage (much to his chagrin) is his romantic life.  From Elvis’s failed first marriage to Mary, to his high-profile affair with Bebe Buell, and beyond to his unofficial marriage to former Pogue Cait O’Riordan and finally up to date with his current wife jazz pianist Diana Krall.  Now, I’m totally understanding to his personal right to privacy in these matters but you have to understand that the friction from these relationships makes up the majority of the emotional backbone to his music.

Other great focuses are his surprising influences (Country-Western), his professional relationship with Stiff Records co-founder and eventual manager Jake Riviera, his early public abrasive-ness including his bout with the media in 1979 after an incident in which a drunken Elvis uttered some offensive racial slurs to members of the Stephen Stills band.

Overall in the face of a few short comings it is an insightful and enjoyable read which I would suggest to any one who considers themselves of Elvis Costello fan.

Usually I would follow a book review up with a playlist to highlight the music covered in the book, but because of the wealth of great material I will be posting a series of playlists split by distinct eras.  Stay tuned.

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