Text of liner notes from:
Elvis Costello/Extreme Honey - The Very Best of the Warner Bros. Years
This album contains a couple of hit singles, a few records that you may have heard on the radio and a very personal selection from my Warner Bros. recordings. Together, they are the songs that I would like to present to the listener once again. Now if only I'd kept a diary...
1988... Return from Greenland... Start work on SPIKE in Dublin with T Bone Burnett and Kevin Killen co-producing...Donal Lunny convenes an Irish Folk Chamber Orchestra from members of De Dannan, Moving Hearts & The Chieftains... He also plays a mean bouzouki on "TRAMP THE DIRT DOWN"... Have murderous impulse about wretched, vandalistic, vindictive ruling regime in England... Song gets it out of my head, it doesn't change the world...
Sessions move to New Orleans... Record Allen Toussaint's really grand piano for "DEEP DARK TRUTHFUL MIRROR"... A song of drunken delusions... The Dirty Dozen Brass Band also star on this and "Chewing Gum", which features Kirk Joseph's mighty sousaphone.
Hollywood sessions with T Bone de Mille: Cast includes many pals from "King of America" sessions. Work for the first time with Marc Ribot and Jerry Marotta on song about Bentley and Craig case: "Let him dangle". Meet Burt Bacharach in studio corridor. Thankfully, he laughs when he hears how much we've nicked from him for arrangement of "Satellite", "(You're nobody 'til everybody in) This Town (think's you're a bastard)" features Roger McGuinn & his hot Rickenbacker 12-String...
Back in London. Dub Chrissie Hynde's vocal harmony onto "Satellite". Paul McCartney arrives carrying his own Hofner to add bass part to "VERONICA", the first of twelve co-written songs. Two appear on SPIKE and four more on Paul's album "Flowers In The Dirt"...
1989: "Veronica" becomes my first U.S. Top Twenty Single. On tour with seven-piece band called Rude Five. We were over Utah or somewhere equally distant, when I realised we had a hit on our hands. Flight attendant says her grandmother had a similar experience to "VERONICA". Tribute to Evan English's video clip. Who says you can't have old people on MTV?
1989... Move to the hills of Dublin. Very cold so start to grow hair and a beard. Seems to scare people, so grow it longer...
1990... Try to record MIGHTY LIKE A ROSE with estranged Attractions but too many lawyers around so go to Barbados for two weeks to surf, drink rum and record "Kojak Variety", an album of favorite songs by other people. Then on to New York to record "Weird Nightmare" for Hal Wilner's record of Charles Mingus music. Band includes Henry Threadgill and Bill Frisell but also uses Harry Partch's beautiful homemade instruments.
Five years later try to persuade major record company to issue Kojak Variety without any advertising so purchasers can discover it in racks at their leisure. Fail. Kojak Variety is not represented in this collection but is still in the shops awaiting your discovery.
The MIGHTY LIKE A ROSE sessions finally begin in Hollywood. My co-producers are Mitchell Froom & Kevin Killen. Like SPIKE, multi-track used like experimental music manuscript. Parts added and subtracted until final arrangement reached. Create wall-of sound effect by simultaneous overdubbing of three keyboards, two basses, two acoustic guitars & percussion over pre-recorded rhythm section for "THE OTHER SIDE OF SUMMER". I am most proud when song is run at full length under anguished debating of teenage moral dilemmas in television series "Beverly Hills 90210"...
Finally learn to drive. New talent pressed into service for "THE OTHER SIDE OF SUMMER" video clip. Steer vintage Buick full of French models to their near doom along deadly "To Catch A Theif" corniche above Cote d'Azur. Brakes not terribly efficient.
1991: Rude Five World Tour... "Re-set the pig!" cried still another director, mistakenly pointing at tiny porcine co-star of next attempt to bamboozle work of pop through magic of movie camera. Director claims he always has a cute dog in his videos. "Over my dead body" I reply "Unless it's a pathetic dog on a piece of string". We settle for a pig. They are very charismatic and excellent at lip-synching. I begin to think of a different career... Final clip has little to do with "SO LIKE CANDY", another McCartney/MacManus composition. I think my hair might have been in my eyes at the time. Pigs go on to bigger things.
Bad mood music: I write "HURRY DOWN DOOMSDAY (THE BUGS ARE TAKING OVER)" over Jim Keltner's cranky drum loop. Spotlight on Marc Ribot's descriptive guitar work. Original album credit "Giant Insect Mutation and Bug Attack". Nick Lowe arrives with great off-centre bass part. Star of show is James Burton who delivers mind-bendingly fleet guitar solo. Still cannot believe he achieved this without tape being slowed down. There are songs I like better but "HURRY DOWN DOOMSDAY" is the record which most improves my humour if I should chance to hear it.
Borrowed an image from old cartoon for this line in "COULDN'T CALL IT UNEXPECTED No.4"... "I'm the lucky goon who composed this tune from birds arranged on the highwire"... Wishful thinking... Could not read or write musical notation at the time... While mixing of MIGHTY LIKE A ROSE, compose music with Richard Harvey for score of Alan Bleasdale's epic television drama serial "G.B.H." My musical illiteracy makes Richard's job harder. His adaptation of "COULDN'T CALL IT UNEXPECTED" melody becomes part of main theme... Give three numbered themes this same title in honour of Thelonious Monk's "Well you needn't" No.2 appears as interlude on MIGHTY LIKE A ROSE. This circus waltz, becomes "COULDN'T CALL IT UNEXPECTED...No.4".
1991: Had begun attending many string quartet, classical piano and lieder recitals in early '89. Heard the Brodsky Quartet play most of Shostakovitch's quartets in London. In November '91 we were introduced, became great friends, and started writing together. Music and words composed by all of us in various combinations of Thomas/Belton/Cassidy/Thomas/MacManus credits. Started not to feel the cold so much. Got a haircut and shave. Took lessons in musical notation.
THE JULIET LETTERS is a sequence of songs and musical pieces in the form of letters. Then include an eccentric aunt's reply to family begging letters, a chain letter promising riches in return for your soul, a child's note, a message at a seance, an adaptation of a real letter from female U.S. Gulf War soldier, several deranged love letters, some graffiti and a suicide note. "THE BIRDS WILL STILL BE SINGING" is the last song in the sequence.
THE JULIET LETTERS was first performed at the Amadeus Centre on 1st. July 1992 and recorded in a disturbingly tartan room at Church Studios, Crouch End, London with Kevin Killen at the controls between 14th, September and 1st, October '92.
February/March '93: Around-the-world-in-25-days-Juliet-Letters-world tour of 19 concerts in 10 countries. In Barcelona, perform in exquisite Palau de la Musica only days after appearing at Folies Bergeres in Paris and a converted chocolate factory near Pisa... the piece turns out to be both funny and emotional in concert... much about it feels totally new to me. Some folks bewildered by absence of electric guitars. Others tuning in for the very same reason...
Return to November '92: Still liked electric guitars, so wrote ten songs in one weekend for pop chanteuse Wendy James with help of my wife Cait O'Riordan. "Gwendolen Letters" demo sessions, with Pete Thomas on drums and me playing everything else, at Pathway Studios, home of My Aim Is True. Sound is still perfect for a certain kind of violent music. Soon Pete and I return to cut true and ugly story; "KINDER MURDER" "20% AMNESIA" and several ragged pieces. Return to Dublin to write more songs. Six BRUTAL YOUTH melodies come to me in one day. Now I realise I will need a real piano player, so call up Steve Nieve... and real bass player... calling Mr. Nick Lowe... and a bigger studio for the extra musicians.... Olympic... a new production team: Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Summer of '93: This line up cuts half of the BRUTAL YOUTH record including "ALL THE RAGE", which says something about that obsolete function involving paper, ink and opinion... "You know the measuring pole, the merry boots of clay"... and you know what they say about opinions. Speaking of which, O happy day, bass player Bruce Thomas arrives. First Attractions session in over eight years completes the album.
"13 STEPS LEAD DOWN" written after visit to Escorial, where Kings of Spain are buried at the foot of thirteen marble steps so as to instill dread in the visitor. "SULKY GIRL" is fantasy life of Stuttgart schoolgirl who courts a scandalous reputation to test her power.
"LONDON'S BRILLIANT PARADE" is a sidelong look at the town in which I was born. the last verse is my own personal streetmap. The record is beautifully lead by Steve Nieve's piano playing.
Jan. 1994: Record "Lost In The Stars" with Brodskys in Toronto for movie of Kurt Weill music. Film is set in sub-zero (-27 degrees) derelict factory... April: Tape Gershwin duet with Tony Bennett for his M.T.V. Unplugged in New York... Spring and summer: Early records are re-issued by Demon Records & Rykodisc. "Elvis Costello & The Attractions" tour world playing the violent end of BRUTAL YOUTH plus songs from previous seventeen years. Sometimes we play louder than you can think. Three months after tour my ears stop ringing.
January 1995: Conclude a JULIET LETTERS tour of the Castilla-La mancha region with a concert in Toledo, Spain.
March: First performance of "Put Away Forbidden Playthings", written for viol consort Fretwork & countertenor, Michael Chance...
April: Royal College of Music benefit concert at St. James' Palace for alleged next king of England and flush pals. Perform JULIET excerpts and Mike Thomas' arrangement of "God Only Knows" with Brodsky Quartet. Duet on "Mistress and Maid" & "One After 909" with star of the show Paul McCartney. Brodskys join Paul for finale of his famous "chamber music" songs...
April/May/June: Co-write music with Richard Harvey for Alan Bleasdale's eight hour television drama series "Jakes Progress"...
April: Play six shows in Paris, London & Dublin, as unannounced support to Bob Dylan. Try out songs for ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY then join Bob for duet on "I Shall Be Released"....
April: Write "God Give Me Strength: against movie deadline with Burt Bacharach using fax and answer machine messages...
May: Play two songs solo to 300,000 people at "Primomaggio Festival" in Piazza San Giovanni, Rome. Join Robbie Robertson & band for "I Shall Be Released" finale. Just happen to know the words.
May: Kojak Variety released after five years in the can. Too much advertising. Transatlantic radio broadcast disaster when voice departs in mid show, after stupidly singing "Bama Lama Bama Loo" in front of Little Richard in Arctic T.V. studio conditions the previous day...
June: Director of eight day Meltdown Festival at the South Bank Centre, London. Get to invite, and sometimes perform with, the following: Jazz Passengers with Deborah Harry, Fairfield Four, Anuna, Bill Frisell, Donal Lunny and band, Moondog, Brodsky Quartet, John Harle, Composers Ensemble, Marc Ribot, Fretwork, The Wooden Indians, Steve Nieve, June Tabor, Jeff Buckley and Gunther Schuller conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The programme includes my very short orchestral overture "Edge of Ugly". Takes longer to make traditional composers bow down than to play the damn piece. Sing over fifty different songs during numerous appearances.
July 1st/2nd: Final concert of Meltdown entitled "Glad To Be Unhappy" concludes at 1 am. Later that day fly to Roskilde Festival, Denmark. Perform three songs with Jazz Passengers and D. Harry, 45 minute programme with Brodsky Quartet, and then close show with the Attractions plus M. Ribot and James Burton for BRUTAL YOUTH/ Kojak Variety set... Fall down for two weeks...
July/August: Return to Dublin to rehearse songs for a five-night stand at Beacon Theatre, New York before going into studio... Nonesuch Records release a limited edition of Meltdown set with Bill Frisell as Deep Dead Blue.
ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY was recorded in Dublin in August and September '95 and completed and mixed during February '96 in London. It was co-produced with Geoff Emerick & Jon Jacobs who were also at the board for the 1982 album "Imperial Bedroom".
During autumn interlude make two guest vocalist appearances plotted during summer. Record "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched" for Donal Lunny's Common Ground collection and "O Mistress Mine", John Harle's setting of three songs from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" for Terror and Magnificence album.
Visit St. Petersburg to view art collection looted by Red Army in last days of Second World War and kept in a secret vault until current exhibition. Every incident in "MY DARK LIFE" occurs during that short trip. Track recorded in London for album Songs In The Key of X in one furious fourteen hour session with Brian Eno. I play piano, guitar and bass while Brian works gadgets and makes ample use of tape machine erase button.
Over thirty songs were considered for inclusion on ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY, hardly any of them recent vintage and many of which were originally composed for others to sing. Final selecrion contains only four previously recorded songs, two of them by the same artist: June Tabor. There is usually more than one way to sing a song.
I wanted to make a record out of pieces that I had taken some time to think about, with a few songs that I couldn't have written when I was twenty-two. ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY, POOR FRACTURED ATLAS are two of the most elegant, if untypical, performances by The Attractions. They are probably amongst our last recordings together as a band.
Steve Nieve and I arranged "I WANT TO VANISH" around his piano part for the Brodsky Quartet and three players from the septet which had augmented the Brodskys at The Meltdown Festival. The song may seem bleak on first hearing but it does contain the line :"I'm as certain as a lost dog pondering a signpost", which might be my motto.
The last Attractions tour in the summer of '96 had many highlights but I could feel us pulling apart again. So after six great nights in London, a rare old Parisian cabaret, the real Royal Court in Liverpool, our tragic Greek debut in Athens, one more time at "Barrowlands" in Glasgow, The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, our first Portland date for over seventeen years and Seattle, where we made our second American debut in '94 and our final US bow, it was over to Tokyo and time to say... Nagoya and out.
I returned to Dublin and completed work on "Three Distracted Women", a set of three songs written for the Brodsky Quartet and the beautiful voice of Anne Sofie von Otter. The Piece was premiered in Paris in November '96. Around the same time W.B. issued a very limited edition set of five live E.P.s: "Costello and Nieve --- For the first time in America", featuring highlights from our May '96 club tour. Keep an eye on this new duo, I think they'll go far.
Music that got started in the summer of 1995 is beginning to appear. I hope you get a chance to hear "God Give Me Strength" on the "Grace Of My Heart" soundtrack, "Aubergine" on the Jazz Passengers' "Individually Twisted" album, Anuna's choral version of "Deep Dead Blue", "That Day Is Done" on the Fairfield Four's new record and "Put Away Forbidden Playthings" on a Fretwork release in late '97.
I would like to thank the good people at Warner Bros. for the license to record when and what I wanted even if, on occasions, it was for another label. My time at W.B. has had ups and downs. The good people know who they are. The bad people know where I live. The measure of failure has become much more drastic but I also know that there are singers and bands who would be delighted by my smallest success. It's easy to start imagining that you have a right to be heard. I am very proud to have had such a curious audience.
I hope you enjoy these selections if you are hearing them for the first time. If you already know the albums then I hope you hear something new in my choices and this sequence... there was really no more room for the likes of "God's Comic", "Rocking Horse Road" or "You Bowed Down".
At the time of writing I am half way through composing a new album of songs with Burt Bacharach, which I hope we will record by the end of '97.
I am the third in four generations of musicians in my family. I don't imagine I am going to stop now.
Copyright 1997 Warner Bros. Records Inc.
( thanks to bambooneedle for this )
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