A man of few words – a phrase that has almost definitely never been used in relation to Elvis Costello.  Although he is every bit as much a tunesmith as a lyricist, it is his way with words that has made him one of rock music’s most respected songwriters.

Now Costello has written his memoirs, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, and has released an accompanying “soundtrack” collection, providing a 38 track overview of his career from pre-fame demos to brand new material. Costello_unfaithfull

It’s almost forty years since Costello appeared as an angry young man, his sneering, sputtering, invective-filled songs syncing with the punk ethos although his influences owed more to The Band, Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell  than The Dammed, The Clash and The Pistols.

He is now – although he may not like the thought – one of rock music’s elder statesman, his endless, restless enthusiasm for music having led him to incorporate a variety of styles, from country to classical, into his music.  While this has resulted in him being labelled by some  as a genre-hopping dilettante, his aim was never anything other than true.

I need to own up at this point: I am a massive Costello fan; the 11 albums he recorded between the 1977 debut My Aim Is True and 1986’s Blood and Chocolate are in my musical DNA.  If we subsequently drifted slightly apart then I’m happy to say it was my fault Elvis, not yours, I’ve tried  to stay faithful but now and again I’ve strayed.

Fidelity, and the lack of it, are themes that run through this non-chronological  compilation like a dagger through the soul.  Costello’s takes on jealousy, betrayal, lust and self-loathing are as varied as the musical styles that clothe these compositions.  While the Costello canon has already been compiled comprehensively, this particular collection avoids much of the obvious.  Instead, it is intended as a companion and compliment to the book.  Not then, one for the casually curious despite the presence of Oliver’s Army and Watching The Detectives.  And not perhaps of immediate attraction to the committed fan who will surely already own at least one copy of all but a handful of these tracks.  But when you settle in for the night with a copy of Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink and find that you just can’t put it down, there will be no better accompaniment.

John Scott

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