Elvis Costello has taught us some hard lessons throught his 30 years in the business: Accidents will happen, girls talk and girls named "Alison" will bring out your inner stalker. But recently, Costello has taught us to fear the musician who owns all his music publishing rights, as his lust for reissuing his music is seemingly insatiable.
This summer Hip-O Records released all of the albums from Costello's golden period from 1977's My Aim Is True to 1986's Blood & Chocolate as single-disc sets devoid of any bonus material. This is a ridiculous premise in itself: Fans who grew up on the reissues of these records will want to hear the b-side "Girls Talk" at the end of 1980's Get Happy!!, and many of Costello's cast-offs are as rewarding as his canonized work.
This is hardly the first time that Costello's catalogue has been repackaged. In 1993, Rykodisc Records began an extensive overhaul of his first eleven records (one solo and ten with the Attractions). Those single-disc reissues coupled the original albums with an extended program of b-sides, demos and live cuts. In 2001, Costello sold the rights to his work to Rhino Records, which upped the ante by adding an extra disc of goodies, as well as Costello-penned liner notes, to all of his albums through 1996's All This Useless Beauty. It appeared, at last, that the river of rarities had run dry and that Rhino's beautifully packaged discs would be the definitive and final versions.
If it seems to fans that Costello was more interested in recreating artifacts than new music, he had continued the process of fetishizing his back catalogue in 2003 with the release of a three-volume singles boxed set, which reproduced his vinyl singles as CDs. It was unclear who, exactly, this set was intended for: Vinyl junkies want the real wax not a digital simulacrum and hardcore Costello fans have most of these tracks from the first series of Rykodisc reissues.
Last month saw the release of the My Aim Is True deluxe edition, a two-disc set that pairs the original thirteen tracks with thirty-five bonus cuts, including unreleased demos and an entire live set (and sound check) from the time the album was released. While Costello's landmark debut is certainly worthy of such lavish treatment, this edition marks the fourth time that the album has been re-released in fourteen years. What's more, there are a good number of tracks missing from the collection; these appear on the Rykodisc and Rhino collection, which means that Costellophiles will need to hold onto at least two different versions of the album to have a complete picture.
Still, the reissue is worth buying if only to hear the live disc, recorded in August of 1977 in London with the newly formed Attractions. Many have pondered what My Aim Is True would have sounded like if it had been recorded with Costello's peerless backing band, and this live set gives a good approximation. The band hadn't quite congealed yet, and many of the versions of Costello's biggest hits ("Alison" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes") stick pretty close to their pub-rock origins. The early renditions of future singles are illuminating, and we hear tracks such as "No Action" and "Lipstick Vogue" (which would appear on 1978's This Year's Model) in their gestational forms.
So when Costello warms the stage for Bob Dylan (who has just reconstituted his own back pages in a three-disc collection titled DYLAN), he will have a chance to prove to his fans that his current music is as vibrant and challenging as his career-defining hits. If that doesn't work, he can get a head start on writing the liner notes for My Aim is True: The 35th Anniversary Edition.
An Empire of Dirt
Cradle of Filth has been polarizing metalheads for fifteen years. While the British band's fan base goes rabid for its bombastic black/thrash song-suites, others just loathe the group. Hard-core black-metal fans resent the act for getting lumped in with their hermetic and surly genre, accurately claiming that no group with such an obvious sense of humor and showbiz aesthetic could be "true" black metal. Some think that frontman Dani Filth is a pretentious Limey jag-off and that the music sounds like the soundtrack to a shitty Italian horror movie.
But with the help of relentless touring and some genuinely memorable album covers and T-shirts, Cradle of Filth has slowly but surely become an undeniable presence in metal. Much of the band's success is a tribute to the work ethic of guitarist Paul Allender. "I pretty much wrote all of [Thornography], barring two or three tracks," Allender says. "I wanted to push the band not toward the mainstream, but a bit more of a metal feel. Luckily, the fans have totally accepted it, and it's opened a lot more doors for us. We don't have to stick to the same typical style that was Cradle."
Indeed, the formula of lightning-fast riffs, thundering blast beats and neoclassical flourishes and interludes (frequently provided by real orchestras and choirs, to label owners' dismay) has been expanded to include thrashy, more traditionally metallic guitars. This, in turn, has changed the atmosphere at shows quite a bit.
"There's a whole front row of kids headbanging, which was never the case at any of our gigs before," says Allender. "It gives you a major buzz to be playing and see a whole bunch of eighteen-year-olds swinging their hair around. You think, "Fuck me, I used to be like that when I was their age.'"
Thornography is Cradle's most mainstream effort to date. Although still ferocious, the album finds the band straddling the same line between extremity and pop that Celtic Frost did on its classic Into the Pandemonium. Phil Freeman THE DOWNLOAD
The Smashing Pumpkins just aren't what they used to be. The geeky space-rock charm of Gish and Siamese Dream began to die shortly after Billy Corgan shaved his head and uttered, "The world is a vampire." The more recent Zeitgeist reunion drove another nail into the coffin. Relive the band's glory days at its official Web site. The audio page includes a stockpile of live shows (some better quality than others) spanning the Pumpkins' career as well as the 25-track album of b-sides, Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. The band asks fans to upload their own audio bootlegs onto the site, so expect the selection to get even better in the future which is more than we can say for Corgan. (smashingpumpkins.com/audio)