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Rock and Roll Music

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Album Review

When Elvis Costello's back catalog from 1977-1986 shifted from Rhino to Hip-O in 2007, the third major EC reissue campaign was inaugurated by the just-the-basics hits set The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years and its companion, Rock and Roll Music, the first of a projected series of thematic trawls through Costello's back pages. Since it arrives hand in hand with a compilation that deliberately serves up nothing but the usual suspects, Rock and Roll Music is a welcome fresh take on Costello's catalog. Compiled by Elvis himself, the set has a few hits and standards found on most Costello comps — "Pump It Up," "(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," "Tokyo Storm Warning" — but the intent isn't to serve up familiar tunes, it's to showcase a particular musical side of his many-faceted musical personality, which this does very well. As the title makes plain, Rock and Roll Music focuses on his rock & roll recordings, which sometimes have been overshadowed by the musical explorations taken by Costello ever since he signed to Warner in 1989. This tremendously entertaining 22-track compilation proves that at his peak Elvis was a thrilling, hard-edged rocker, particularly when he was backed by the Attractions — which he is on all but two cuts here, both taken from his Attraction-less debut, My Aim Is True (that is, if the collector bait of the previously unreleased solo demo version of "Welcome to the Working Week" counts). Costello does rely heavily on the two hardest Attractions records here — there are five cuts from 1978's This Year's Model and four from 1986's Blood & Chocolate, if the alternate of "Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?" is counted — but he also sprinkles in B-sides (all also appearing on the 1980 U.S. compilation Taking Liberties) and digs deep into albums for largely unheralded gems as "King Horse" and "Lovers Walk." These are a couple of minor revelations for big fans, but this isn't quite aimed at the hardcore, who, after all, will be very familiar with these 22 songs. This is for the casual (or former) fan who wants to explore further, and for them, this will be an excellent supplement to a hits disc. But this is really for the skeptical neophyte who never believed that Elvis Costello was a punk rocker — for them, this compilation provides ample proof that, yes, he really was.


Born: 25 August 1954 in Paddington, London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

When Elvis Costello's first record was released in 1977, his bristling cynicism and anger linked him with the punk and new wave explosion. A cursory listen to My Aim Is True proves that the main connection that Costello had with the punks was his unbridled passion; he tore through rock's back pages taking whatever he wanted, as well as borrowing from country, Tin Pan Alley pop, reggae, and many other musical genres. Over his career, that musical eclecticism distinguished his records as much as his...
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