Elvis Costello's final album for Warner Bros. might have been even more widely ignored had he and the Attractions not gone on tour to support it. The result led to a final split, but All This Useless Beauty still ended ... more »up doing little business. This reissue, part of Rhino's first wave of a Costello remaster/refurbishing campaign, provides an opportunity to hear mostly exemplary songwriting and assuredly masterful performances. Darkly observant and even witty, tracks like "The Other End of the Telescope" (a rewrite of a Costello-Aimee Mann collaboration), "Distorted Angel," and "Starting to Come to Me" could take their places on anyone's mix tape. (The snarling "Complicated Shadows," one of the few full-on rockers here, even made it as far as a Sopranos episode.) Costello overreaches on the title track, but its sophisticated tone works just about everywhere else it's tried. The bonus disc of demos and one-offs is necessarily a sonic hodgepodge, but it's a damn fine long-player on its own. Costello's liner notes are, as always, a must. --Rickey Wright« less
Elvis Costello's final album for Warner Bros. might have been even more widely ignored had he and the Attractions not gone on tour to support it. The result led to a final split, but All This Useless Beauty still ended up doing little business. This reissue, part of Rhino's first wave of a Costello remaster/refurbishing campaign, provides an opportunity to hear mostly exemplary songwriting and assuredly masterful performances. Darkly observant and even witty, tracks like "The Other End of the Telescope" (a rewrite of a Costello-Aimee Mann collaboration), "Distorted Angel," and "Starting to Come to Me" could take their places on anyone's mix tape. (The snarling "Complicated Shadows," one of the few full-on rockers here, even made it as far as a Sopranos episode.) Costello overreaches on the title track, but its sophisticated tone works just about everywhere else it's tried. The bonus disc of demos and one-offs is necessarily a sonic hodgepodge, but it's a damn fine long-player on its own. Costello's liner notes are, as always, a must. --Rickey Wright
"So, with this re-release we get another chance to pay homage to Elvis' latest (last?) foray with the Attractions. This is a wonderful album from start to finish, with Elvis sounding great as always, writing some of his most beautiful and consistently touching songs, the band sounding great, etc. etc. This was all shockingly obvious when the album was first released and time has already proved it. Sans frills, you've got a great album.
But oh my child, there are frills, thrills, and even some chills when you get to the absolutley invaluable second disc, overflowing with some of the best Elvis songs you've probably never heard. Here we've got his collaborations with Brian Eno(!), exploring the possibilities for pop in ambient with "My Dark Life"; the Fairfield Four on "That Day is Done," a track with so much soul it wouldn't have sounded too odd on the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack; the tossed off the album stunner "Almost Ideal Eyes," with Elvis switching tempo and style midway through the song, from bitter rock to sweet regret and never skipping a beat, and skatting(!!); "The Bridge I Burned," a freaky experimental rock piece that kicked off Extreme Honey and hopefully will get more attention here; Elvis' rendition of "The World's Own Optimist," a song penned with Aimee Mann for her Bachelor #2, and is astounding both places; the heart-breaking "What Do I Do Now," a song Elvis wrote with Paul McCartney; and a number of demo tracks from this album and of songs which Elvis wrote for other people, all of which are great on their own but when compared to their alter-egos on the album itself, really bring the listener into the gestation of the music.
Last but certainly not least is the stunning closer, "Distorted Angel" remixed and with backing vocals by that twisted trip-hopper Tricky. The idea of such a team-up may seem counter-intuitve, even slightly disturbing to any militant purists out there. Go with it guys. This is an incredible re-imagining of the song, and the mix highlights some of the emotional intesity and turmoil I find to be lost in the album version. Elvis is cast in the role of the innocent boy questioning his beliefs with Tricky playing the devil himself. It's a chilling, sexy mix, showing off Elvis' true genius: compatibility. This proves he could be working in any musical field he wants and still be producing incredible music.
I know I've been saying this the whole way, but this is GREAT stuff, nary a dud in the bunch, and well worth buying, whether you've got the initial release or not. All said, one of Elvis' best albums made better by the presence of these marvelous B-Sides."
Sharmin McGown | Indianapolis, IN | 10/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rykodisc had the right idea when they reissued Elvis Costello's early albums with B-sides, alternate versions of songs and outtakes. This already staggeringly prolific artist became new again with stripped down and passionate gems never heard before.
Luckily, Rhino has follwed suit, reissuing a highly underrated album, "All This Useless Beauty". The songs on the album run the gamut in a seamless way that only Costello can pull off, and the bonus disc is full of sweet and raw tracks that tug at heartstrings.
Highlights of the first disc include "Complicated Shadows," a track with the bile and vitriol that were Costello's trademarks in his earlier days. He's always managed to be able to juggle intelligent lyrics with catchy tunes, but this song out-and-out ROCKS--rare for our musically high-brow hero--as well as delights with the lyrics. Listen to him howl "GO!", and revel in the slippery guitars and the tight bassline. "Shallow Grave" is a two-minute track that packs quite a punch; classic Costello rockabilly, but with a more grown-up sound. "It's Time" is a foray into funky rock, while keeping in line with EC's love for nearly classical musical arrangements. I wouldn't mind if this song were played in a nightclub--it's quite danceable. "Distorted Angel" is a hell of a soul song, with a little of Rod Stewart's "Maggie Mae" mixed into the lyrics. A sultry bassline underlays a quiet storm of a melody. Costello's passionately controlled, understated vocals have never been sexier, and a plinky piano adds to the "pure illuminated sweetness".
The second disc is a patchwork of demos and unreleased songs. "That Day Is Done" is an old-fashioned gospel masterpiece, with Costello singing his heart out, accompanied by the formidable Fairfield Four. It seems the older Costello gets, the stronger his voice becomes: in earlier albums, his voice was charmingly flat, always just a hair below the pitch. In this song, however, he's dead on. A version of "The Comedians", with alternate lyrics and time signature, is much more chilling than the original. Roy Orbison recorded this alternate version, and one can hear the echo of Orbison's haunting voice while listening to Costello. "Mistress and Maid" is a clever, sadly sweet song, with spare arrangement to higlight the lyrics. "Hidden Shame" is a song showcasing his love of Country music--it's a jaunty tune, with haunting lyrics. Johnny Cash recorded this song as well, and while it certainly works for Costello, Cash's voice is best suited for it. One of my favorites is "The Bridge I Burned". It's a wickedly funny way of Costello flipping the musical bird to Prince, who refused to let Costello do a version of "Pop Life". Costello employs an almost hip hop beat for the song, and makes it work--the mocking "pop...life" in the chorus is a riot, and the bassline slips and slides around the track. Of course, this song sounds just a bit similar to Prince's "Pop Life", but it's a matter of a musician taking an idea and vastly improving it, while gleefully thumbing his nose. I'm sure The Artist is wishing he'd gone ahead and let Costello record the song instead.
This collection is superb, and show Elvis Costello's maturity. Anyone who's looking to introduce him/herself to Elvis Costello should probably start from the beginning, in order to appreciate how far the artist has come. Once you get to this album, however, you'll realize it was well worth the wait."
Mocking Bird In The Twilight Of Infamy
Sharmin McGown | 08/27/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This record is a minor masterpiece. Initially released 7 years ago to universal apathy, this is E.C.'s last great record featuring The Attractions. Forget Sophie Von Otter and Burt Bacharach, this is his best offering next to WHEN I CRUEL since BLOOD & CHOCOLATE.
If there are any fans of THE JULIET LETTERS, they won't be disappointed with songs like "I Want To Vanish" either. From the baroque beauty of "The Other End Of The Telescope" to the white plastic soul of "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone" to the Kurt Weill sentiments of "Shallow Grave" ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY stands out as one of Elvis' most ecclectic and diverse records.
The sharp, pop arrangements found on IMPERIAL BEDROOM are echoed in tight numbers like "You Bowed Down" and "It's Time". Another standout is the epic meloncholy of "Poor Fractured Atlas".
One of the fringe benefits of re-issues like this are ofcourse, the "bonus tracks". Unlike the Ryko re-issues in the 90's, Rhino has generously placed them on another whole disc, preserving the original album. That, said, most of the bonus discs have made for a particularly coherent listen. It's like rumaging around in the attic & finding a gem here & there. For once, the outtakes & rarities here nearly form another album.
"Almost Ideal Eyes", "The Bridge I Burned" & "My Dark Life" are all terrific. Other rarities like, "That Day Is Done" & "World's Greatest Optimist" give true fans their just desserts.
In the music business, timing is everything. Though this has been generally ignored at & since it's initial release, this particular reissue only enhances what should be more highly regarded."
What a Bargain!
JD Cetola | Omaha, NE USA | 08/23/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This re-issued version of Elvis Costello's 1996 should have been classic "All this Useless Beauty" is a real treat--and the bonus disc is just that. Those who don't already own "All this Useless Beauty" should wait no longer--snap this 2CD set for the price of one right up and you won't be disappointed. Those wise souls already in possesion of ATUB may want to consider selling their old copy (or give it to the unenlightened). To begin: "All this Useless Beauty" is classic Costello. There are sublime pieces highlighted by Steve Nieve's faultless, gorgeous, classically-inspired piano (e.g., 'The Other End of the Telescope', 'All this Useless Beauty', 'Why Can't a Man Stand Alone', 'Poor Fractured Atlas', and 'I Want to Vanish'). These songs are terrific (lyrically, musically, and sonically) and Elvis' voice has never sounded better. Additionally, there are several tracks where the band quicken the pace--'Complicated Shadows' and 'Shallow Grave' spring to mind. Overall, this album rates with the greatness of early Costello (any of the albums thru "Trust" for example) and far surpasses his recent output. As for the bonus disc: It's a bit of a mixed bag. The first 5 tracks are of standard sound quality (they're not demos) and the inclusion of 'Almost Ideal Eyes' (which should have been on the album proper) and the ethereal 'My Dark Eyes' quickly give you your money's worth (of course the bonus disc really is free). The rest of disc 2 is not quite up to those standards, however. 'That Day is Done' with the Faifield Four almost sounds like a Barbershop Quartet with a piano in the background. 'The Bridge I Burned' (same version as that from the "Extreme Honey" compilation) does not fit the mood of ATUB and then you get to the demos. Sound quality varies drastically amongst these sparsely instrumented tracks (Costello plays all instruments--generally just an acoustic guitar or keyboards--on all but one of the demo tracks). 'Complicated Shadows' (stripped down solo acoustic), 'Mistress and Maid' (a McCartney/MacManus creation), 'Distorted Angel', and 'Hidden Shame' (Elvis as country star) betry the environment in which they were recorded (likely casette tape in most instances). The remaining demos are of a better quality and there are some gems to be found. 'You Bowed Down' (the only full-band demo) sounds terrific with a 70's feel (the version included was that written for Roger McGuinn), 'The Days Take Care of Everything' is another track that would meld perfectly with the ATUB tracks, and it is a shame 'World's Greatest Optimist' (another MacManus/Mann composition) wasn't recorded by the band--it is a great track and again, fits the spirit of the record. The bonus disc concludes with the bizarre, but eerily appealing Tricky remix of 'Distorted Angel' and tops out at a generous 68+ minutes. Overall, a great bargain and highly recommended--especially if you don't already own "All This Useless Beauty"."
HERE'S ONE THAT REALLY GRABS ME
Scott T Mc Nally | ORLANDO, Fl USA | 09/05/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been more or less a casual fan of Costello over the years.
Some of his work moves me and some does not. "All This Useless Beauty" is one that truly does. He's always written incredible lyrics. I remember catching him on Letterman when this came out. He did "It's Time" as a solo acoustic piece and completely blew me away. That song in my mind is so definitive of his dark lyricism and there's plenty of other great stuff here as well. "The Other End Of The Telescope", "Complcated Shaddows" and "Poor Fractured Atlas" are essential Costello in my book. His best work since "Spike"... Costello has been so prolific over the years. He doesn't always hit the nail on the head, but he certainly did so here."