Pomp and Pout: The Universal Years
[Rating: 3 stars]
Spanning his 1998-2008 releases, Pomp and Pout: The Universal Years, Elvis Costello’s third “best of” release captures a snippet of the iconically bespectacled, limitlessly eclectic and perennially prolific songwriter’s varied output as he took on the 21st Century.
In addition to hosting more of Costello’s head-first indulgences into arenas of opera, chamber pop and New Orleans R&B, his third decade as a recording artist saw him successfully collaborate with both Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, and recasting his classic Attractions – save for departed bassist Bruce Thomas – as The Imposters and rejuvenating his rock roots.
Costello and The Imposters offered up three stellar rock and roll LPs – 2002’s Stiff-era throw-back, When I Was Cruel, 2004’s Americana-tinged The Delivery Man, and 2008’s flight-by-pant-seat, sans-kitchen-sink guitar-fest, Momofuku. Each featured some of the best pop/rock cuts of his career.
While his Aughts rockers saw Costello prove ten-fold that he’s still young at heart – as represented here by the lighthearted “My Mood Swings,” the anthemic ode to vinyl “45,” and sock-hop-ready romp “Monkey to Man” – this compilation ultimately feels incomplete, as it inexplicably omits top-shelf tracks like “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)” and the “Dark End Of The Street” homage “Either Side Of The Same Town” to make room for a decade-encompassing overview that’s even more frustrating and insufficient.
While inclusions like the Bacharach co-penned Painted From Memory cut “In the Darkest Place” and the title track to 2006’s outing with Allen Toussaint, The River In Reverse, hint at the majesty of those records, they sound better in their context, and feel awkwardly placed alongside songs chock-full of distorted guitars and pounding drums.
While on Universal, Costello maximized his carte blance by moonlighting on the company’s various imprint labels with varying projects, thereby letting him off the leash to prod the depths of his musicological curiosities – found in albums like the sluggish piano/vocal love letter North and the symphonic departure Il Sogno. Including only two selections – “Impatience” and “Still” – from the former, and none from the latter, Pomp And Pout is hardly an attempt to evenly acknowledge the breadth of the decade. But to try and diplomatically curate Costello’s Aughts output and end up with a result that sounds anything but jarring and schizophrenic would be an impossible task. A selection like the overture to Il Sogno isn’t necessarily meant to be heard out of the context of its parent record either.
With glaring omissions like “God Give Me Strength,” “She,” and “The Scarlet Tide” – three of the finest ballads, not to mention most well-known highlights of Costello’s post-‘98 canon – it’s hard to see what the point of this release is beyond noting which of Costello’s songs are his personal favorites. And if you care that much, you’d be better off buying the original records – if you don’t have them already – and making your own mix.