Elvis Costello All This Useless Beauty WEA 9362 41698-2

Thursday 09 May 1996 23:02

Like George Michael, Elvis Costello borrows from a classical source on his latest album - in his case, the Moonlight Sonata - though there the comparisons end. A lyrical lament for sad manhood, "Poor Fractured Atlas", the song in question, reveals exactly the kind of contemplative vulnerability absent from Older.

It's not the only such example, either. The strongest of the moods on All This Useless Beauty is the perplexed resignation that sighs its way into the title-track - another of Costello's Pinteresque portraits of stalled relationships - and into several other songs including "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone", a soul anthem summarising the intolerable weight of tradition: "His skin and his station, his flag and his nation, they just wear him down". As direct and articulate a soul-protest number as any by Curtis Mayfield, it lacks only the emphatic delivery of a Mayfield or a Marvin or an OV Wright - as indeed does the album's other soul pleader, the break-up song "It's Time".

The album was co-produced by the former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, a dab hand at the kind of eclectic fusion Costello and The Attractions favour here, be it a country/ fairground cross ("Starting to Come to Me"), a Byrdsy jangle ("You Bowed Down"), or the various grades of brooding rocker, from "Complicated Shadows" to "Shallow Grave". But despite the stylistic variety, it's the pervasive downbeat mood that one takes away from All This Useless Beauty. Certainly, there are few true Costello classics included here - worryingly, the closest the album gets to that is the old Costello/ Aimee Mann collaboration, "The Other End of the Telescope". But it never sounds less than deeply felt.

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