Monday, 1 October 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - All This Useless Beauty (1996)


  

Released May 1996

This is a less harsh-sounding album than 1994's "Brutal Youth", although the songs aren't quite so memorable. There is an appealing mix of slow, yearning numbers and upbeat Costello-style rockers. It is a bit of a patchy album, to be honest, I prefer its predecessor, and it doesn't really hold a candle to the great albums of the seventies and eighties. That said, it is not without its highlights.

"The Other End Of the Telescope" is a heartfelt, moving slow number full of those classic Costello couplets, while "Little Atoms" is probably my favourite on the album, with real echoes of the "Imperial Bedroom" era in the instrumentation and the vocal. The title track is a typically stark Costello ballad backed by a lonesome, late night piano. It also features some excellent lyrics. "Complicated Shadows" is a muscular, riffy rocker in the vein of some of the "Blood And Chocolate" material. It features an infectious drum sound at points and Costello spits out the lyrics with a trademark sneer. "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone" is a plaintive ballad, while "Distorted Angel" is a beguilingly-backed, mysterious-sounding number.

"Shallow Grave" is one of those strangely rhythmic songs that Costello does, such as featured on "Spike" and "Brutal Youth", full of loud drums and rimshots. "Poor Fractured Atlas" is another evocative, piano-driven ballad. "Starting To Come To Me" is a "King Of America"-style country rocker of the kind that seems to be unique to Costello. "You Bowed Down" is a big, grandiose mid-paced rock-ish number in that archetypal Costello melodic but punchy style. It has a Byrds-influenced guitar riff. "It's Time" has those big, resonant drums again and a scratchy backing and some Steve Nieve organ that has echoes of the seventies. "I Want To Vanish" ends the album on a mournful, torch-song note.

Let me state, in conclusion, that this is certainly not a bad album. It is actually quite good, but, for me, I found more of the "Brutal Youth" material stayed in my mind, by far, despite this album's clearly superior sound quality.

C+

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