All This Useless Beauty
When Elvis Costello isn’t busy writing songs for himself, he apparently relaxes by writing songs for other people. This obsessive-compulsive streak has led him to many genres and made even his lesser works worthy of contemplation. All This Useless Beauty is a collection of spare parts, songs written for others, songs co-written with others (Aimee Mann, Paul McCartney), and songs that never made it on to proper albums — except by using the Attractions as his back-up band, the spare parts become a cohesive whole. From the first drum whacks behind “The Other End of the Telescope,” a tune co-written with Aimee Mann, it’s clear this will be a tight collection of performances. There really is no such thing as a toss-off from Costello. “Complicated Shadows,” written with Johnny Cash in mind, is an eerie warning. “Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone?,” written with Sam Moore in mind, pleads its case with conviction. And the title track, “You Bowed Down” and “Poor Fractured Atlas” may never serve up the hungry, desperate edge of his earliest work, but the man can still turn a phrase and slash out a chord.