Saturday, March 08, 2008

Music Review: Elvis Costello - This Year's Model Deluxe Edition

When I first read that Hip-O was going to reissue Elvis Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, I was incredibly skeptical. The album had already been reissued approximately 219,000 times; another edition stank of pure, unhinged, uncontrollable record company (or musician) greed.

But when the Hip-O version turned out to actually be quite good – a few tunes that had never been released before, plus an early live concert, were included – I was pleasantly surprised. Even if this reissue wasn’t exactly the definitive version of the album (it didn’t by any means top the Rhino version), it had a reason to exist and wasn’t a fleecing of Costello’s fans.

Hip-O’s reissue campaign continues with its release of This Year’s Model. Costello’s second album and the first one featuring The Attractions, the album is rightly recognized as a stone classic, full of the anger, spite, and revenge that Costello personified in the late 1970s. Of course, this album has been reissued previously. The 2002 Rhino reissue was a welcome new take on the album. Jammed full of demos and other goodies, and featuring Costello’s humorous and honest liner notes, that edition appeared to be the final word on the album.

Hip-O’s release of the album won’t do much to change that opinion for most Costello fans. Whereas the MAIT edition had a few twists to make it a worthy purchase, there isn’t much in Hip-O’s edition to justify it as a purchase for Costello fans who already have the Rhino version.

Too much of this release is simply a rehash of the previous reissue. The vast majority of the bonus tracks on the first disc have already been released commercially, with most of them appearing on the superior Rhino editions of This Year’s Model or Armed Forces. This leaves the kick-ass 1978 Washington, D.C. show on the second disc as the only new offering for Costello fans. Although the show itself is fantastic and the sound is great – it’s also noticeable how manic and wild the band’s playing had become since the show featured on the MAIT reissue – it’s hard to justify another pricey purchase of the album for essentially nothing more than the live concert. Costello fans who already have the Rhino version won’t have much interest in this reissue, apart from the second disc.

The packaging itself follows the same formula as the Hip-O edition of MAIT, with printed lyrics and tons of photos that have either appeared in previous reissues or are minor variations of those photos. The packaging is sharp, to be sure; but at a time when creative packaging is one of the things that might influence someone to buy an actual hard-copy album instead of just grabbing it on iTunes, Hip-O’s final product is a little bland and uninspired. Just like the MAIT Hip-O version, Costello’s excellent liner notes that appeared on the Rhino edition are again excluded.

A two-disc set of live Elvis and the Attractions from 1978 might have been a better release and would certainly have satisfied Elvis’ army. With both the Rhino version still in print and a large number of great 1978 shows that circulate unofficially, another rehash of This Year’s Model without much of anything new comes across as pointless, or more cynically, as a typical record label money grab. One can only assume that Armed Forces is next on the reissue list; here’s hoping that reissue is an improvement over this one.

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