Album Review: Elvis Costello – The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

By on Wednesday, 28th March 2012 at 12:00 pm

In a shrewd piece of either child psychology or ’70s snot faced rebellion, Costello advises his eagerly baying (as in ‘at the full moon’, everyone knows he knocks an album out a month) fans to go for something “by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived”.

And, who might this musician be? Does Elvis, the man with the perceptive skills of Randy Newman and the coherence of Van Morrison, see himself as finally crumbling under the weight of his own burdensome genius? Of course not; this is pub rock and the man he’s talking about is, bizarrely, Louis Armstrong. It may seem like a strange, even flawed marketing technique. But, for a CD, DVD, vinyl, book, poster and postcard, a price tag of £170 plus is enough to make you pull that “I’ve just done a slammer but forgot the tequila” face.

Then you notice there’s a copy of the album alone, the transcendent feature of this box set, and it’s yours for just £12.99. The tracks themselves are a mixed bag, with classic Costello hits such as ‘Lipstick Vogue’, ‘Watching the Detectives’ and ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding’, as well as more recent releases, b-sides and covers.

Like on the game show Wheel of Fortune, the album starts with an almighty din, before tailing off to sound more like a sarcastic clap. The first 3 tracks ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’, ‘Heart of the City’ and ‘dad’s favorite’ ‘Mystery Dance’ go off with a tempo reminiscent of the Clash in the early days, and has that sort of manic folk rock drum beat heard on The Levellers’ eponymous release. Here, the organ takes precedence as the melodic lead over both the guitar and Costello’s own vocals.

Then we enter what can only be considered the holy quarter of the wheel. Whether intentional or not, ‘Every Day I Write the Book’ and ‘God Give Me Strength’ smack of god rock apathy and annihilate the gripping pace. ‘Watching the Detectives’ is given a raw two-tone edge, complete with extended dub breakdown, while ‘Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)’ featuring Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles turns out to be the album’s hidden gem. Lyrical and instrumental issues on ‘Out of Town’ and ‘I Want You’, respectively, cannot be ignored, but in ‘All Grown Up’ the vocal melody is more tangible and ‘Lipstick Vogue’ is effortless in its bombast.

‘The Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ has never been a tour in and of itself (it was incorporated in to the 1986 Costello Sings Again tour, before being repeated and recorded 25 years later on the Revolver tour) and is basically a glorified Wheel of Fortune spun to decide his set order. A bit like Russian roulette with a revolver that shoots ballads. It might, therefore, seem counterproductive to release a concrete CD/DVD/vinyl/binary version of something whose sole purpose is to create variation. Not so, as long as you are willing to fork out for the box set that includes a replica spinning wheel (available with all reputable Twister-style board games) or have figured out the shuffle function on iTunes.


Elvis Costello’s ‘The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ will be released 2nd of April on Commercial Marketing.

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