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Rock - Released October 12, 2018 | Concord Records

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From the release of his debut album, My Aim Is True, in 1977, Elvis Costello expressed his musical gluttony by mixing explosive pub rock, reggae tones, almost country-like ballads and pop songs sculpted with crystalline arpeggios. It was this eclecticism that allowed him to work with people as diverse as George Jones (the godfather of country music), Burt Bacharach (the master of pop lounge), the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and even the rappers from The Roots, just to name a few… Forty years later, the elusive spectacled Brit (having always been fond of concept albums), releases Look Now with the Imposters, featuring Steve Nieve on keyboards, Davey Faragher on bass and Pete Thomas (already the drummer of his group Attractions). This group, with whom he recorded Momofuku in 2008, give him the chance to get his writing pen out once again… and it’s as sharp as ever. Here he has shared the writing responsibilities with the great Carole King on Burnt Sugar Is so Bitter, co-written 25 years earlier, as well as with Bacharach on Photographs Can Lie and Don't Look Now. Once again, it feels like Costello is searching for the perfect pop song. He takes an approach that screams 1960s. However, the timelessness of the album anchors the songwriter well in his time, in 2018. Costello succeeds in writing melodies and lyrics that stick in his listeners’ heads. A good song, as we all know, is ageless and Elvis Costello certainly reminds us of that here... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Elvis Costello Catalog

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Elvis Costello was as much a pub rocker as he was a punk rocker and nowhere is that more evident than on his debut, My Aim Is True. It's not just that Clover, a San Franciscan rock outfit led by Huey Lewis (absent here), back him here, not the Attractions; it's that his sensibility is borrowed from the pile-driving rock & roll and folksy introspection of pub rockers like Brinsley Schwarz, adding touches of cult singer/songwriters like Randy Newman and David Ackles. Then, there's the infusion of pure nastiness and cynical humor, which is pure Costello. That blend of classicist sensibilities and cleverness make this collection of shiny roots rock a punk record -- it informs his nervy performances and his prickly songs. Of all classic punk debuts, this remains perhaps the most idiosyncratic because it's not cathartic in sound, only in spirit. Which, of course, meant that it could play to a broader audience, and Linda Ronstadt did indeed cover the standout ballad "Alison." Still, there's no mistaking this for anything other than a punk record, and it's a terrific one at that, since even if he buries his singer/songwriter inclinations, they shine through as brightly as his cheerfully mean humor and immense musical skill; he sounds as comfortable with a '50s knockoff like "No Dancing" as he does on the reggae-inflected "Less Than Zero." Costello went on to more ambitious territory fairly quickly, but My Aim Is True is a phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 1978 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Rock - Released July 1, 1977 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Pop - Released July 28, 2017 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Hip-O - Elvis Costello

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Pop - Released February 15, 1980 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Rock - Released February 1, 1986 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Rock - Released August 5, 1983 | Hip-O - Elvis Costello

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Rock - Released November 10, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Following a pair of near-masterpieces in 1986, Elvis Costello went into semi-seclusion, separating from the Attractions (once again) and Columbia Records, emerging three years later on Warner Brothers with Spike. Mockingly billing himself as "the Beloved Entertainer" on the album's front cover, there's nevertheless a real sense of showbiz pizzazz here, as he tries on a little bit of everything. You like Costello the soul singer? Try "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," recorded with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Costello the pop sophisticate? How about the torch song "Baby Plays Around" or "God's Comic," a tune that mocks Andrew Lloyd Webber, while aching to eclipse him. The angry young man? There's "Tramp the Dirt Down," perhaps the nastiest anti-Thatcher song ever waxed. Costello the witty wordsmith? Well, there's "Pads, Paws and Claws," a rockabilly tune overflowing with labored puns. Costello the gifted pure pop tunesmith? There's plenty of that here, from "This Town" with Roger McGuinn and Paul McCartney and the lovely "Veronica," a tune co-written with McCartney that became one of his biggest hits. So, there's a lot here -- everything except focus, actually. And Costello certainly likes to indulge himself here, throwing in the awkward "Chewing Gum" and the instrumental "Stalin Malone" for good measure. There are some moments that work quite well, but there's nothing connecting them, and if anything, he's trying way too hard -- and, for all of the overarching ambition of his early-'80s recordings, that criticism never applied before. Certainly, there are cuts for cultists to enjoy, but Spike's sprawl works against it, resulting in a maddeningly diffuse listen. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2007 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Pop - Released July 2, 1982 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Rock - Released February 8, 2005 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

If Spike seemed frustratingly incoherent, it's nothing compared to Mighty Like a Rose, a deliberately dense, difficult record that is easily the most impenetrable that Elvis Costello ever cut. With producers Mitchell Froom and Kevin Killen, Costello made a record with no easy entrances, even if the sparkling Beach Boys-esque "The Other Side of Summer" and the lovely "So Like Candy" would have been accessible with different production. And, certainly, production is the most notable thing about this record. Filled with clattering production, spongy bass, cardboard guitars, studio white noise, and layers upon layers of tracks, there's so much going on that it's hard to get to the core of the songs. Not that Costello makes it any easier for the listener, either, since only a few songs (the aforementioned pair, plus "All Grown Up" and "Playboy to a Man") don't seem self-satisfied in their own construction. And his performances are nearly as affected as the songs, as he over-sings (albeit for effect) and contributes to the muddy wall of sound. Yes, this is "interesting," but it takes many plays before you realize all those "interesting" effects lead nowhere -- only to the strangest record Costello ever cut (and that's not a compliment, unfortunately). ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2012 | Elvis Costello Catalog

Despite cameos in Spice World, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and 200 Cigarettes, very few would consider Elvis Costello a star of the silver screen, but the singer/songwriter has soundtracked many a film since he stormed onto the scene in the late '70s. The 2012 compilation In Motion Pictures doesn't contain all of the songs that have popped up in movies over the years but it has 15 of them, making a shift from songs licensed to films toward songs written for films about halfway through. Apart from "Oh Well," a song cut for the little-seen hip-hop opera Prison Song, "Sparkling Day" from One Day, and "You Stole My Bell" from The Family Man, most of these songs aren't particularly hard to find on other Costello compilations, but this does provide a service in rounding up a bunch of stray songs of varying shades of quality. Although this is certainly inconsistent -- its momentum stalls on the stately relatively recent songs -- in an odd way, what's most interesting about In Motion Pictures is that it's the only compilation to touch upon nearly every phase of Costello's career. Here, you can hear the man evolve from nervy punk rocker to sophisticated balladeer, trading personas like an actor finds new roles. And while that might not make for the sturdiest of compilations, it is one that is quietly -- and inadvertently -- revealing. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released November 1, 1980 | Elvis Costello Catalog

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Rock - Released October 12, 2018 | Concord Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Hear Music

Elvis Costello has spent the back half of his career flitting from style to style, recording everything from opera to R&B, but he avoided the country-folk of 1986's King of America until 2009, when he teamed up with America producer (and fellow Coward Brother) T Bone Burnett for Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. By its very definition, country-folk seems straightforward, but the only thing simple about Secret is the speed of its recording. Costello and Burnett assembled an all-star acoustic string band -- featuring Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Dennis Crouch on bass, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and banjo, and Jim Lauderdale on vocal harmonies -- and cut the album in just three days, its swiftness similar to its knocked-out predecessor Momofuku. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane often bears its quick conception fetchingly, feeling loose-limbed and intimate, a record made simply because it's fun to play, a sentiment that can't quite be said of its songs. Surely, there are times where the humor is as riotous as those old Coward Brothers singles -- Costello and Burnett have a ball on the bawdy travelogue "Sulphur to Sugarcane" and sweetly harmonize with Emmylou Harris on "The Crooked Line" -- but Secret is frequently fussy, particularly on the songs Costello has carried over from his unfinished Hans Christian Andersen opera. The very presence of these songs ("How Deep Is the Red?," "She Was No Good," "She Handed Me a Mirror," "Red Cotton") suggests just how muddled Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is conceptually: it bounces all over the place, threading these stagebound tunes between a collaboration with Loretta Lynn and his take on "Down Among the Wine and Spirits," which he originally wrote for Ms. Loretta, a rollicking leftover from The Delivery Man ("Hidden Shame"), a cover of Bing Crosby's "Changing Partners," the Burnett co-writes, a few new songs, and a reworking of Elvis' old "Complicated Shadows." Despite the occasional stuffiness, there's a lot of good material here and it's all executed well, but it's hard not to shake the feeling that this is a collection of leftovers masquerading as a main course. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released July 28, 2017 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released January 1, 1999 | Universal Music Classics

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Rock - Released January 1, 2002 | Island Def Jam

Given the flurry of activity from Elvis Costello at the turn of the century -- concerts, guest appearances, reissues, a movie role that was barely seen outside of off-hours on BET -- it's hard to believe that he spent four years without releasing an album of new compositions...and if you don't count the Bacharach collaboration, it's been a full six years since his last album. Either way, it was the longest stretch of time between albums in Costello's career, capping off a decade of records where he seemed to determine to flaunt his versatility, range, and ambition, which may be the reason why the focused, stripped-down artiness and resurgent acerbic wit sounds particularly fresh on When I Was Cruel. As such, it's easy to be tempted to call the record a return to form, but it's not an accurate assessment, not least because it's not as strong as Painted From Memory. It is accurate to call it the most Costello Costello record since probably Blood & Chocolate -- one that maintains a consistent tone, bristles with nasty humor, and is filled with carefully written lyrics (some could call them labored) and knowing, clever musicality. Since it's a post-Froom, post-Ribot production, it's murky and hazy, with muffled drums, shoebox guitars, obscured loops, and angled arrangements all signifying that while this is his first pop album in years, it's still a serious experience (but fortunately much livelier than the Froom productions, and not nearly as mannered or affected). In other words, it's exactly what it was supposed to be and it's successful on those terms, but that shouldn't be mistaken as a creative rebirth along the lines of, say, Love & Theft, or a record that will play outside of the cult, since the sound and approach is pretty insular. Given all the care that was put in the production, the variety of the music, and the craft of the lyrics, it's no surprise that there are memorable moments -- whether it's the horns on "Episode of Blonde" or the dynamite guitar on "Tear off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," -- but they're moments in songs, not songs themselves. Each song is so tightly wound, only those who automatically listen to new Costello records obsessively upon release will unravel their mysteries. Those listeners will find plenty to obsess over and will be satisfied, since, outside of the Bacharach album, it's his best in a long time. But in order to know that, you will have to have diligently listened to everything from Spike on -- and if you got off the bus around then, it's harder than ever to get back on. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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