Extreme Honey (Elvis Costello) – Compilation Album

Costello From Every Angle

Elvis Costello From Every Angle

This CD compiles Costello’s recordings during his tenure at Warner Brothers, a time of constant reinvention that resulted in some really good music, some disconcerting experiments and overall timid performances on the charts. The CD has 18 tracks, and every album minus “Kojak Variety” (a collection of covers released in 1995) is represented.

The one song you might be familiar with is “Veronica”, co-written with Paul McCartney along with “So Like Candy”. The song was incredibly successful and it received heavy airplay when it was released at the tail end of the 80s. It has Elvis on a very accessible pose, granted, but I feel that without the McCartney connection it would have shared the fate of most of his late day compositions: respected by critics, accepted by fans, revered by a few, and ignored by the masses.

The best songs on the whole CD might just as well be the ones from “Brutal Youth”, an album where he is backed by The Attractions. These songs include “Kinder Murder”, “13 Steps Lead Down” and “Sulky Girl” – all heavy numbers that in spots recall Costello’s finest hour while making it clear that the man is a sharp as ever.

And there is also another set of songs recorded with his classic band. They come from the album “All This Useless Beauty”, and they are mostly ballads – and good ones at that, especially the savage title track. It earned Mr. MacManus a misanthropist label, and it is true he went a little too far. But wasn’t that his modus operandi from day one? Wasn’t he known for going too far, looking back at the audience and then saying “I am carrying on. If you want to come along for the ride, do so. If not, you know where you can get off.”? And he said it in a way that you just had to follow him.

But not everything works out, of course. In fact, there is an alarming number of tracks that show what happens when Elvis indulges himself. “Hurry Down Doomsday” is a cacophonous track that has you reaching out for the ”Skip” button, and songs like “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” have so many guests that it feels as if he were the one guesting on somebody else’s record. There is also far too much going on “The Other Side Of Summer” and “Tramp The Dirt Down”, tracks that still have more than occasional sparkle. Conversely, a restrained performance produces the delicate “I Want To Vanish” (the final track on “All This Useless Beauty”), while the set closer here is “All The Rage”, a two-fingered gesture at the press, with a diamond ring upon each finger.

A song which works better here than on its original album is “The Birds Will Still Be Singing”. You see, the song comes from a CD which has over an hour of chamber music (“The Juliet Letters”, 1993) and that tests the listener in the utmost ways – the tonal uniformity is too much, even when some individual compositions rank along Costello’s’ very finest ever. Here, the song is a graceful interlude that I have always regarded very dearly.

The one rarity is the never-before-released “The Bridge I Burned”, a song heavy on loops and sound processing. I don’t like it that much, but it has the timeless line “You said I used to be handsome/if you screwed up your eyes”. And there is also a song from the “X Files” soundtrack that has even more sound processing going on. And that is only fitting – it was co-written and recorded with Brian Eno.

My verdict is that the CD does gather together some of his best composition from the period, yet there are far too many omissions to call it a comprehensive overview. For example, we are missing “You Bowed Down” and “The Other End Of The Telescope” from “All This Useless Beauty”, “My Science Fiction Twin” from “Brutal Youth”… the list is endless. The album is rather a time capsule from those days in which he created himself anew artistically. Most artists do that. And such days always – always – are marked by a certain pigheadedness on the part of the artist. A conviction that his “new direction” is nothing but the truth, and that such a bearing is going to result in his biggest artistic statement ever. In actuality, when that time is over the artist discovers he has made so many turns that he has lost half his followers along the way. Not because they became bored, but simply because they couldn’t keep up. And that is what Elvis Costello’s stay at Warner ultimately stood for. And that is what this CD represents. Before this time, Costello‘s followers were known to follow him around. At every turn. As I said above, he instilled that on you. After this point, many threw the towel in. I repeat – the CD has some gems, but don’t ever think about buying it before any “classic Costello” compilation. And if you already have one, it doesn’t mean you will enjoy this CD. Go pick something like “Armed Forces” or “Get Happy!!” instead. At least you will not scratch your chin every two songs, wondering what it is you are listening to.

Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: No

Do I feel like digging deeper into his catalog after listening to it: No