The Best of Elvis Costello:
The First 10 Years Label: Hip-O / Universal
Rock and Roll Music Label: Hip-O / Universal
Elvis Costello has a new label for his back catalog? Oh, maaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnn! Here we go again!
Yes, the artist formerly known as Declan Patrick MacManus has once again switched up the label licensing his classic work from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The albums first began their existences on Columbia, but when the CD revolution began in earnest, our man Elvis chose young upstarts Rykodisc to reissue his albums in digital format with loads of bonus tracks. When that contract ran out, however, he transitioned over to Rhino, and – adding his Warner Brothers albums to the mix as well – they released double-disc editions of his albums, leaving the proper album intact but adding an entire second disc worth of B-sides, rarities, outtakes, demos, and live tracks. Now, in 2007, the ownership of the original Columbia albums has fallen to Hip-O / Universal, who will also be stockpiling their versions of the reissues with bonus tracks.
In other words, being an Elvis Costello completist is not an inexpensive task.
It’s become a staple of Elvis’s catalogs’ new homes that, when they arrive, a new best-of collection hits stores to get the buzz going and remind everyone that, yes, the man’s a genius. (Trust me, I told him so personally.) Give Hip-O/Universal credit, however, for not exactly following the routine to the letter; instead of doing just a single-disc collection of the obvious hits or, alternatively, a double-disc set of both hits and album tracks, they’ve opted to release two completely separate CDs.
The first – The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years – is, in fact, a single-disc collection of the obvious hits, and, truth be told, there’s nothing to recommend it beyond the fact that it’s Elvis Costello and the songs are great. It doesn’t improve upon any previous best-of collection, and it’s more or less a match for the one released by Rykodisc back in 1994…though, like that disc, it’s also missing “The Only Flame in Town,” in what one presumes is yet another attempt by Elvis to pretend that Goodbye Cruel World never happened. It’s a nice sampler of the man’s early work, and it’s as good a place as any for a casual fan to start, but there’s nothing really praiseworthy about The First 10 Years.
The second disc – Rock and Roll Music – is at least a little bit unique in that, amongst the original studio recordings of the songs from throughout the Columbia years, they’ve slipped in a live version of “Mystery Dance,” the demo for “Welcome to the Working Week,” and an alternative version of “Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?” It makes the disc just barely different enough to make it worth purchasing for a fan…but, even then, it’s a tough call, given that there are several crossover tracks between this disc and The First 10 Years. The ostensible goal of the disc is to provide a look at the most “rocking” tracks of Elvis’s early years, and it’s nice that Elvis did the track selection himself, but Rock and Roll Music will only be of interest to a very, very new fan who’s looking for the next album to buy after The First 10 Years.
While there’s nothing actually wrong with either of these two compilations, our honest opinion is that, if you want to spend your money on two discs worth of Elvis Costello’s best work, you should go with The Very Best of Elvis Costello, which provides a two-CD look at Elvis’s entire career up through the end of his Warner Brothers tenure. The First 10 Years and Rock and Roll Music are decent enough, but neither come as close to definitive as that set does. Sorry, Hip-O.