Monday, March 16, 2009

List Making #2 - Elvis Costello's Discography, Ranked

The list of albums is from the Elvis Costello Wiki. I added three semi-obscurities from my collection that the wiki did not include in the main album list. Then I put them in order.

I should point out that, in my opinion, there are no bad albums on this list.

1 Blood & Chocolate (1986)
- My all-time favorite. Nick Lowe's production makes stuff that shouldn't work (splicing together two takes of a song with different tempos, letting anything bleed into anything else) work. Dirty where King of America is clean, B&C is a gut wrencher. EC's anger on his first records was snotty. Here it's almost scary.

2 King of America (1986)
- Maybe EC's best collection of songs. I don't love every track, but the high points are as high as he ever got. EC was King of 1986.

3 Get Happy!! (1980)
- All the short songs just blew right by me the first few listens. Then at some point, wham!, it all clicked. With 20 tracks on vinyl, EC used a lot of parts, but he built a helluva machine. Surprising how little guitar there is. An A+ Attractions showcase.

4 Imperial Bedroom (1982)
- Geoff Emerick-produced, so you know it sounds great. Some of his very best songs here. Absolutely top shelf EC.

5 Armed Forces (1979)
- The only one to get a (quite good) 33-1/3 volume so far. Seems more obviously like a Great Album or Big Artistic Statement than Get Happy!! or Imperial Bedroom, but I enjoy listening to those two just a bit more. All of my top five are serious contenders for Best EC Album.

6 Trust (1981)
- Overshadowed by some of the great albums preceding and following it, Trust features a healthy portion of EC & the Attractions at their best.

7 This Year's Model (1978)
- Just as I understand why some people prefer the first Clash album to London Calling, I understand why some people think this is EC's peak moment. In both cases, I'll take the improved songwriting of the later albums even if it comes with a slight dimunition in nervous energy (a similar point is made here). I won't deny that it's totally classic, though.

8 My Aim Is True (1977)
- He had the songs. He just didn't have the band yet. Compare "Watching the Detectives" to everything preceding it to understand how much the Attractions brought to the table right from the start.

9 Brutal Youth (1994)
- See this post below.

10 When I Was Cruel (2002)
- Could've trimmed a bit of fat and ended up with a shorter, tighter, totally seamless album. Still, one of EC's best-sounding albums.
10a. Cruel Smile (2002) - I hitched this and Clarksdale Sessions to their "mother albums" as they seem more like bonus discs than stand-alone releases. If I threw this into the mix by itself, though, it would do pretty well. Odds 'n' sods, but good ones.

11 Spike (1989)
- Lots of styles and collaborators here, but it stands on the strength of the songs.

12 Almost Blue (1981)
- EC is too great of a songwriter for a covers album to rank in the top ten, but the high points here are high enough to beat out a lot of very fine albums.

13 The Delivery Man (2004)
- The "concept" aspect of this album doesn't really work for me, but the country-soul, Dan Penn-inspired feel does.
13a. Clarksdale Sessions (2005) - Rawer versions of Delivery Man songs recorded with Jimbo Mathus. Not essential but fun to hear.

14 All This Useless Beauty (1996)
- Strong, varied collection of songs. Good replay value. Not a beloved or frequently mentioned EC album, but the quality kind of sneaks up on you.

15 Momofuku (2008)
- Obviously very solid EC. Sounds good. Good songs. The newest album on this list, I could see it moving up with time.

16 Punch The Clock (1983)
- Horns, of-the-moment pop production, and some strong songs. Mostly I find this to be good-but-not-great EC. I keep expecting this one to grow on me the way some of the albums above have done, but it never really happens.

17 Deep Dead Blue (1995)
- Brief live document of a performance with Bill Frisell at the EC-curated Meltdown Festival in London. Makes me want to see a whole show with these two.

18 North (2003)
- Most of the tunes don't really stick with me, but it has a nice feel overall and closes with one of EC's best in his would-be-standard mode, "I'm in the Mood Again".

19 Kojak Variety (1995)
- Maybe the only EC reissue with a bonus disc stronger than the original release. I wasn't sure whether to figure in the bonus disc, but since my experience with this album is as a twofer, I'm going to give it some weight.

20 My Flame Burns Blue (2006)
- Live big band/jazz orchestra concert of rearranged EC numbers and Mingus and Strayhorn tunes with EC lyrics. Not everything works in this setting, and the whole thing is a bit of a novelty, but overall quite enjoyable.

21 Piano Jazz: Costello/McPartland (2005)
- This is from the long-running and often excellent public radio series. Kind of an oddity in this list since it contains interviews between songs, but it's a nice mix of standards and EC tunes. The beautifully spare arrangements make this a real showcase for EC's singing.

22 Mighty Like A Rose (1991)
- This one could move up with more listens, but most of the songs haven't made much of an impression so far. Check out the "Other Side of Summer" video for one of EC's strangest (and for this video, most incongruent) looks.

23 Painted From Memory (1998)
- The Burt Bacharach collaboration. There are some good songs here, no doubt, but I've rarely found myself in the mood to listen to this.

24 The Juliet Letters (1993)
- One of my more recent aquisitions on this list. EC w/ string quartet. Another one that could move up with more listens. He wasn't capable of writing this type of song ten years earlier, but perhaps his reach exceeded his grasp on this project.


Il Sogno (2004) - EC's classical thing. If I recall correctly, a ballet score based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not bad at all, but I find it difficult to compare it to his song-based, vocal albums.


Goodbye Cruel World (1984) - EC once referred to this as "our worst album", but I haven't heard enough to make my own judgment. I know it produced at least one good video (for "I Wanna Be Loved") and that some of the songs acquitted themselves nicely in later versions.

Costello & Nieve (1996) - This is the live multi-EP set from their duo tour, my most coveted EC rarity. I'm hoping for a reissue.

For The Stars (2001)

The River In Reverse (2006)
- Post-Katrina Allen Toussaint collaboration. I imagine this is pretty good. Just haven't picked it up yet.

No comments: