Elvis Costello

Pomp and Pout: The Universal Years

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When Elvis Costello signed with Universal it was under the condition that he could record for any of their various imprints, thereby giving him full license to indulge in all his interests, whether it be rock & roll, R&B, opera, or torch songs. This made for an interesting era without many hits, so compiling an overview of his stint with the label is all about personal choice -- and in the case of Pomp & Pout, it’s all about Costello’s own take on 1998-2008, a take that is typically idiosyncratic. Many of the singles from this decade -- “Toledo,” “She,” “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)," “Go Away” -- are left behind, as is “God Give Me Strength,” the cornerstone of his Burt Bacharach collaboration Painted from Memory, while a handful of relative oddities (“My Mood Swings” from the Big Lebowski soundtrack; the North bonus track “Impatience”; “In Another Room” from The Clarksdale Sessions, the accompanying EP to The Delivery Man) are elevated in the canon by their presence here, but Pomp & Pout winds up excavating album tracks from his primary Universal albums: the 1998 Bacharach collaboration Painted from Memory, 2002’s When I Was Cruel, 2004’s The Delivery Man, his 2006 duet The River in Reverse with Allen Toussaint, and 2008’s Momofuku. This may mean that his more adventurous moments are downplayed -- there’s nothing from The Sweetest Punch, For the Stars, Il Sogno, and My Flame Burns Blue, and even North is relegated to a footnote -- but it does give Pomp & Pout a unified vision, one that’s rooted in classic rock, pop, and R&B, one that doesn’t seem as willfully eclectic when presented as a collection as it does when heard album by album. And in that sense, Pomp & Pout winds up as a representative sampler of this decade: it may miss some signature songs, it may take a couple of detours, but the foundation is strong -- and the same can be said of the era as a whole.

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