Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Elvis Costello's 'Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album'

Creating a soundtrack for a book is a pretty new concept, but its level of interactivity is downright old-fashioned, reminiscent of the days when you had to get off your ass to flip a record (I know, I know, those days are making a comeback of sorts) instead of just allowing Spotify to run on and on. Elvis Costello has always been an artist who demands full attention, so it’s appropriate that his highly anticipated, upcoming autobiography coincides with the release of Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album, a two disc, 38-track selection of songs personally picked by our budding writer to be played while reading choice passages of his book.

The fun game to play when hearing these songs without the book is figuring out where they fit into his story. The live, piano-and-voice version of “Accidents Will Happen” that opens the set must soundtrack Elvis’s witty, self-deprecating introductory statement. “Riot Act” might play over his account of his infamous drunken slur against Ray Charles. How about “I Want You” synching up with his romance with Cait O’Riordan or “Suit of Lights” underlining some significant moment with his dad or a Buddy Holly-esque demo of “Veronica” marking the moment he lost his grandma to Alzheimer’s… or maybe his momentous collaboration with Paul McCartney? 

Knowing the purpose of this compilation really underlines how often Elvis Costello has used his music to tell his own story, even as songs like “Shipbuilding” are more like editorials on current events. However, there are few of those kinds of things on here, and considering that “Ascension Day” sits dead center in the running, I’m guessing it is not intended to coincide with Hurricane Katrina. I’m also guessing that the early demo “I Can’t Turn It Off” is tacked to the end of the music for no other reason than to give fans something we’ve never heard before. Pretty good song, though. However, the previously unreleased collaboration with Kris Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash is the kind of adult contemporary dullness that Elvis has generally avoided at this late stage in his career.

Simply taken as a compilation of classic Costello, Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album is very cool, offering several “hits” (though not always in their most familiar versions) to draw in the novices  and a slew of deep cuts ripe for discovery outside the contexts and confines of their original LPs. Lesser tracks such as “I’m in the Mood Again” and “My Three Songs” take on deeper resonance and stand out better in this context too.

What really ties this CD to the book is “Sketches from Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink”, a snippet of the man reading bits about McCartney, Lou Adler, and playing the Royal Albert Hall from his book. These readings will likely drive a lot of people to buy the audio book. Elviss reading voice is as expressive and masterfully calculated as his singing one!

Get Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album on Amazon.com here:
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