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Rave Ups: Elvis Costello’s Albums 1986 – 1999

A period of serious rebirth and artistic experimentation.  Along with the wider range of material Elvis released during this stretch you get a wider range of hit and miss as well.  There are heavier moments here, especially on Blood & Chocolate and Brutal Youth but for the most part you get a lot of mellow Elvis.  On top of all the music that he released during this period, Costello also curated Southbank Centre’s prestigious Meltdown festival in London in 1995.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

1986 – The Costello Show King of America: This album is a rebirth in many ways.  Among those rebirths is his new love, Cait O’roirdon of the Pogues and the move away from using The Attractions as his sole musical accompaniment.  Instead he was able to hand pick musicians that fit his renewed vision.  This time that vision was guided by new friend and producer T-Bone Burnett.  This album signaled lots of changes, including a new bearded and publicly charming Elvis. Overall the Album has a great unadorned feel, but is also a bit over-indulgent.  His first album for Columbia records.
1986 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions Blood & Chocolate: Back with Nick Lowe and The Attractions for another shift in focus to a more direct rock record from the loose subtle feeling of King Of America.  The recording for this album was purposefully stressful as Costello was trying to bring a little tension into the music, which added to the bands already mounting discontent.  At first glance it seems just another Costello/Attractions album, but listening to it now you will be suprised it was recorded in 1986 as it seems a bit ahead of its time.  ESSENTIAL
1989 – Elvis Costello – Spike: A great solo album in the tradition of King of America and Imperial Bedroom.  Would be the album that includes the lion share of the material he worked up with Paul McCartney.  Elvis’s most instrumentally ornate album to date.  Featured more cherry picking of musicians.  ESSENTIAL
1991 – Elvis Costello Mighty Like a Rose: Elvis seemed to have forgotten what he learned from T-Bone Burnett on this record as he just wouldn’t leave the material alone.  Elvis was getting heavily into classical music and experimenting with computers so the album has a very busy, over-tinkered feel.
1993 – Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters: Elvis’s full on classical album with the very accomplished Brodsky Quartet.  A true collaboration between the two entities.   The album was based on a discarded project from a Italian professor in which he would respond to the thousands of letters that are written to fictional character Juliet Capulet.  An absolutely brilliant collaboration in which the Brodsky Quartet classes up Costello and Costello lends traditional pop song structures.  ESSENTIAL
1994 Elvis Costello/Richard Harvey GBH: The original score for the British television show which stands for Grievous Bodily Harm.  Pretty much what you’d expect – instrumental music.
1994 – Elvis Costello Brutal Youth: Switching gears again, Elvis set out to do a raw rock record.  Originally just going to be just Elvis and Attractions Drummer Pete Thomas, but turned into an accidental Attractions reunion.  They pull it off again, releasing another solid record far past their prime.  ESSENTIAL
1995 – Elvis Costello Kojak Variety: Costello’s second album of covers, this time featuring a wider range of material.  Actually recorded in 1990, but not released until 1995. A pretty underwhelming release all around.
1996 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions All This Useless Beauty: Basically a pastiche of material that Elvis had written for other artists but wanted to reclaim as his own.  Most of the material is pretty weak and the production was purposefully wimpy.  This would be the last time Elvis works with Attractions Bassist Bruce Thomas and his last full record for Warner Bros.
1998 – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach Painted from Memory: Full fledged collaboration with the pop standard legend.  They end up balancing each other out quite well even if you are biased towards Costello’s style. Bacharach was able to rain in Elvis lyrically and vocally while Elvis was able to add a little grit to Bacharach’s very glossy instrumentation and production. Released on Mercury Records.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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