Elvis Costello

Under the Influenza

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When a live recording opens with a creepy rocker like "I Want You," where can it go from there? How can you shake the emotional cobwebs of such a dark, vicious song from the rest of the performance? You can't, which is why this 1994 live recording -- ostensibly from the Brutal Youth tour supporting the album by the same name -- never picks up any momentum. It's hard to shake the desperate passion in "I Want You," shrug your shoulders, and bounce your way into "No Action" from This Year's Model. The song is simply too powerful to abandon so easily, which makes it a great encore song but a poor opener. Aside from the ghost of the first track hanging about, this boot also features some iffy performances from Elvis Costello and his Attractions. On the older material, they often seem as though they're trying to keep pace with themselves and failing, always a beat or two behind past glories. Yet on newer material, such as "My Science Fiction Twin" and "London's Brilliant Parade" from Youth, the combo shines. This uneven recording does boast incredible clarity of sound and some historical value; "Complicated Shadows," a song Costello wrote for Johnny Cash and eventually recorded himself on the All This Useless Beauty album, makes an early appearance in a more countryfied arrangement than the eventual recorded version. Overall, it's an uneven evening for the band, and one constantly haunted by the dark promise of its opening moments.

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