The Right Spectacle
The Very Best of Elvis Costello ó The Videos
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2005, Volume 12, #10
Written by John Metzger
By his own admission, making music videos never was a terribly high priority for Elvis Costello. Nevertheless, he managed to create quite a few promotional spots over the course of his career, and The Right Spectacle compiles 27 of those that were filmed between 1978 and 1994. Not surprisingly, his early work lacked any semblance of a plot, and as a result, the songs were anchored by performance-based footage. Indeed, he and the Attractions merely changed locales, shifting from the white room that was used for the material from This Yearís Model to a Hawaiian backdrop for the selections from Armed Forces to southern France for the tunes from Get Happy!!. Even the later tracks hardly could be considered cutting edge, and given how rapidly the medium evolved, much of the set feels dated.
However, Costello is such a terrific songwriter that his compositions easily are able to overcome the primitive visual imagery that graces them, and buried within the tedium of The Right Spectacle are a few nuggets. The most notable of these is the video for Veronica, which effectively captured the scrambled memories of his grandmotherís dementia, though the cold detachment of the lesser known I Wanna Be Loved is equally resonant. Other highlights include the visual freak-out of Donít Let Me Be Misunderstood, the black-and-white elegance of New Lace Sleeves, the socio-political intonations of The Other Side of Summer, and the cartoon-ish, computer-generated imagery of Accidents Will Happen. Even better, Costello recorded a commentary for each selection on the outing, and although he straddles the line between stating the obvious and providing historical perspective, his dry wit adds a touch of humility to a medium that routinely suffers from an overdose of vanity.
Augmenting The Right Spectacle is more than an hourís worth of recently unearthed live footage, all of which was culled from a variety of television programs that aired in the U.K., The Netherlands, and Sweden. None of the material is particularly revelatory, but there are, at least, a handful of worthwhile moments. You Belong to Me, Lipstick Vogue, and Radio, Radio are all rampaging blasts of youthful exuberance; the performances of Watching the Detectives that were taken from Countdown and the Pink Pop Festival were delightfully playful; a solo rendition of Peace in Our Time is absolutely mesmerizing; and the intriguing employment of a horn section during an appearance on Mandagsboren adds power to the R&B-flavored Everyday I Write the Book as well as the punchy TKO (Boxing Day). Thereís little doubt that the passage of time has left its mark upon the bonus selections, marring them with minor visual and aural anomalies, but their inclusion nicely balances the lip-synching that accompanies the studio-derived music videos.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box