April 9, 2008

Elvis Lives Again (and Again)

I can think of no albums that have been reissued as often as those of Elvis Costello. In addition to the plain-Jane LPs and CDs, there have been extensive remastered series from Rykodisc, Rhino and now Universal Music/Hip-O Records. While multiple versions of the same album may seem like a blatant attempt to get fans to part with more of their money for music they already own, the promise of better sound and extensive extras seems like a good reason to own more than one copy of Elvis Costello's best albums.

But of the many different Elvis Costello recordings available, which should you choose? I have them all, and it's clear to me that the people behind the new Universal Deluxe Editions of My Aim is True [Hip-O 000951402] and This Year's Model [Hip-O 001068102] studied the preceding versions, because these new two-disc sets improve upon the earlier releases in important ways. In terms of sound, however, I can't declare any one remastered edition the clear winner. Roger Bechirian, who was at the controls for This Year's Model, oversaw the Rykodisc editions, which were the very first to come out, while Dan Hersh remastered the music for both the Rhino and Universal editions. Sonically they are all scrubbed clean, but there wasn't much to work with from the start, so there is no material here with which to show off your audio system.

200804_costello_model.jpg (8152 bytes)Where the Universal Deluxe Editions live up to their grand name is in terms of additional materials -- the b-sides, rarities, and outtakes, including some nice-sounding acoustic versions of songs not included on This Year's Model in particular. The Deluxe Editions also include bootleg recordings of significant late-1970s concerts that are worth the cost alone. Rykodisc initially released a boxed set of Costello's first three albums that included a bonus CD of the well-known 1978 El Mocambo concert from Toronto, which was broadcast live and spoiled by some knucklehead who shrieked like a cowboy on a bucking bull at internals throughout. In contrast, the Nashville and Washington, DC, concerts included for the Deluxe Editions of My Aim is True and This Year's Model are free of annoyances and show Costello performing his best early songs with raw energy and playful creativity.

Thus, even if you own the Rykodisc and Rhino editions of My Aim is True and This Year's Model, the Deluxe Editions are worth your consideration on musical grounds alone. There are also bare-bones Universal/Hip-O versions that have no extras and are priced accordingly, but you won't be disappointed if you pay more for the Deluxe Editions instead. They show one of the most important rock musicians in top form playing some of his best, most caustic material. Here's hoping for Deluxe Editions of Armed Forces, Get Happy!! and all of the albums that followed.

...Marc Mickelson

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