Thank God the record labels have finally realized that, when it comes to selling
music video product to the fans, something that makes for an awesome selling
point is getting the artist(s) to do audio commentary.
On “The Right Spectacle,” Rhino – in conjunction with Demon Vision and the
awesomely-named Reelin’ In The Years Productions – managed to convince one
Declan Patrick MacManus to chat about each of the 27 videos on this collection.
It’s the first time they’ve ever put together a set that covers both his years
on Columbia as well as Warner Brothers, stretching from This Year’s Model’s
“(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea” all the way up through “13 Steps Lead Down,”
from 1993’s Brutal Youth. Although there are some serious gaps in the
commentary, presumably while Costello finds himself reminiscing as he watches
the video, it’s still worth the price of the disc alone as he mocks the sets
("We liked this white room so much that we used it three times"), his dancing
("I believe this was when I first discovered I had double-jointed ankles"), or
his acting ("Look at that. Watch that performance as I look at her. No, I'm not
angry; I'm just disappointed”).
There is a running joke throughout Costello’s commentary about how Steve Nieve
never seems to be in a position to play his own instrument – namely, the piano –
in most of the videos. Sometimes they’re on the beach (“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout)
Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Oliver’s Army”), sometimes they’re in a
hotel that won’t allow piano to be brought into the room where they’re filming
(“Good Year for the Roses”); in the latter, he ends up pretending to play a
violin and, as Costello points out, shows very little enthusiasm for it.
Costello also reveals such trivia as the fact that the female lead in “You
Little Fool,” it turns out, also showed up in Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy,” and that
one of the back-up vocalists in “Everyday I Write The Book” is Caron Wheeler,
who ended up fronting Soul II Soul for their big hit, “Back to Life.”
Costello admits that, of the early videos, his favorite is “New Lace Sleeves,”
which he reckons probably hasn’t been seen since they made it, but his full-stop
fave is actually the Evan English-directed “I Wanna Be Loved,” which takes place
almost entirely in a photo booth and, as a result, ties the Cure’s “Close to Me”
for the title of Most Claustrophobic Video To Air on MTV During The ‘80s. It’s
on the “I Wanna Be Loved” video where Costello notes that “part of the reason I
don’t think we took making videos very seriously was that it was just something
that went along with having your picture in the paper if you had a record in the
charts. The Attractions and I always really felt that we were about playing
music live, but, as making videos became more and more common, we tried to find
different ways to at least make them interesting.” The greatest success from an
entertainment standpoint comes in the form of “The Only Flame In Town” – ironic,
given that the song comes from one of Costello’s worst albums (Goodbye Cruel
World) – which co-stars Daryl Hall (who also harmonizes on the song) and
spotlights a purported “Win A Date With Elvis” contest. It’s also the only time
the band utilized a proper movie director on one of their videos, namely Alan
Arkush, who helmed the legendary Ramones movie, “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.” The
most sentimental video, inevitably, is “Veronica,” a tribute to Costello’s
Alzheimer’s-suffering grandmother, but there’s a heretofore-lost treasure
uncovered with “So Like Candy,” which was filmed in sepia tones and, for no
discernable reason, never saw any airplay.
“The Right Spectacle” is also chock full of additional special features,
including 68 minutes worth of live footage from various concerts and TV
performances. You’d think that the best bit about these tracks is getting to see
performances of more obscure songs like “You Belong To Me,” “Clowntime Is Over,”
and “Big Sister’s Clothes,” but, arguably, what’s even cooler is that the DVD
booklet includes comments from Costello on the various appearances...but, then,
Elvis has never been afraid to scribble down his thoughts on his past work.
For Costello fans, this is about as good as it gets, but with songs as stellar
as those included here, even those only slightly familiar with his work will
still find a great deal worth seeing and hearing.