Review: Elvis Costello – The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

Written by: Julia Collins

Most musicians make an effort to generate maximum publicity when their latest album is released but few could hope for the amount of interest created by Elvis Costello’s announcement on his website about The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook.

A little latent punk spirit still seems in evidence if this message is anything to go by: “We at find ourselves unable to recommend ‘The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire.

Elvis Costello Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook

“All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless so we are taking the following unusual step.

“If you want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we suggest, ‘Ambassador Of Jazz’ – a cute little imitation suitcase containing ten re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong.

“Frankly the music is vastly superior.

“If you should still want the component items in the above mentioned elaborate hoax, they will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, unless you are one of those pirates who imagines they are evangelists or that other people’s rights absolve their own thievery, in which case this is between you and your dim conscience.”

But what’s in the boxset that Costello would rather his fans didn’t acquire? Taken from two Los Angeles dates of the resurrected Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour earlier this year, there’s a CD, a DVD, a 10-inch vinyl EP, a hardcover photobook, a diary by Costello about each gig, a tour poster and a limited-edition postcard. The set is a limited edition of 1,500 copies.

The title relates to the wheel with song titles on it that audience members at the gigs could spin to create a unique setlist for each night. The CD has 16 tracks taken from both nights and the EP has a further four tracks.

The DVD contains footage of the second night, which includes an appearance by Bangles star Susanna Hoffs.

The random nature of the track selection for these dates means that some of Costello’s biggest hits are missing from the collection. There’s no Accidents Will Happen, Oliver’s Army, Shipbuilding or (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.

But there are solid performances of Alison, Pump It Up and an extended Watching the Detectives and the atmosphere is ramped up by an appreciative audience, who whoop and squeal at various points during the songs.

This compilation, which is out on December 6, has a number of very decent tracks on it and a few interesting additional items.

It will undoubtedly appeal to completists with deep pockets but given that the same material will be released next year in more affordable versions on single and double CDs, it’s unlikely that many will bother with the collection in its current format, especially after the online outburst from its creator.

And what seems to be an artist speaking out against ‘the man’ on behalf of his fans can still sound rather hollow when it comes to the cost of a ticket to the tour that this boxset relates to.

Seats in the stalls for Costello’s Royal Albert Hall appearance next year are selling on Ticketmaster for a whopping £185 plus fees. But, strangely, he has yet to tell people not to bother with those.

Author: Julia Collins

My favourite film is French, which means that I can pretend to be really deep. I can often be found at gigs and festivals dancing enthusiastically and very badly to the music I love, even if no one else is.

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