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.
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.