The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello – The Videos
February 2, 2006
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Elvis Costello cut an impressive path along the rock ‘n’ roll musical landscape by cranking out one insanely catchy song after another: “Pump It Up”, “Radio Radio”, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, “Oliver’s Army” and the list goes on and on. Finally, someone has collected the music videos Costello made from 1978 to 1994.
Early on his career Elvis was often labeled “an angry young man” because he often fused the attitude of punk rock with a slight snarl in his voice with the pop sensibility of the then emerging New Wave music scene. And yet, he was quite different from the likes of Spandau Ballet or Frankie Goes to Hollywood. What stands out in the early videos is the playful tone in most of them. “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” has Elvis singing while holding a plate of fish and chips. There are also several shots where he and the Attractions try to dance in time with one another.
In the early videos, like “Pump It Up,” there is a cheap, rushed look than in later videos, like “New Lace Sleeves,” with its gorgeous black and white cinematography that looks decidedly more polished. Obviously, at a certain point in his career Elvis had gotten more successful and had more money to spend on his videos and it shows. It doesn’t hurt that he was ably backed by the Attractions who did a great job of giving his songs the right amount of energy and vitality. They had a symbiotic relationship with Elvis like Neil Young has with Crazy Horse and there is nothing formulaic about their playing.
There is a cheeky sense of humour that runs through a lot of the videos. For example, “Everyday I Write the Book” imagines Prince Charles and Princess Diana as a modest if not slightly unhappy domestic couple. There are a couple of videos that make one wonder, what the hell was he thinking? It seemed like Elvis had let himself go during the time of the Mighty as a Rose record, looking like a scruffy, bearded biker in the very Beach Boys-esque “The Other Side of Summer” that features shots of surfers and the Attractions replaced by female fashion models backing Elvis a la that famous Robert Palmer music video for “Addicted to Love.” Thankfully, they did not include the video for “Watching the Detectives” which is pastiche of old film clips with Elvis no where to be seen.
Watching these videos again (and some of them for the first time) only reinforces and reminds one what an incredibly skilled songwriter Elvis Costello is. There was (and still is) an intelligence at work in his lyrics and arrangements. This is an excellent collection if only for the simple fact that it collects so many of Elvis’ videos on one DVD.
Elvis provides sporadic commentary for all of the videos. He provides the occasional factoid, like who shot a particular video, or the occasional cheeky observation, or sometimes becomes almost chatty, like on “The Only Flame in Town.” When he does make a comment it is usually pretty good but alas they are few and far between.
The real treat is a collection of “TV Archive Selections” that range from 1977 to 1983 and include some vintage appearances on European TV. Among the gems to be found is an electrifying performance of “Radio Radio” and live appearances in festivals in the Netherlands and Sweden. There is some great footage here that fans will love. My only complaint would be the lack of appearances on U.S. TV shows, most notably his infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live but I’m sure the fees to license such footage was probably astronomical.