Elvis Costello – The Right Spectacle – Review

dvd-elviscostello200Elvis Costello

The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of the Videos (Rhino)
by Tim Den

The thing about a retrospective DVD such as The Right Spectacle is that – and I’m sure Elvis Costello himself would agree – there are almost as many embarrassing moments as there are triumphs. Musically, fashion-wise – okay, especially fashion-wise – there’s a lot here best left forgotten. So kudos right off the bat to the man for standing up and saying “Yup, that’s me in the tri-colored sweater on INTERNATIONAL TV.” Not even the mid-’80s albums were as bad as the outfits!

The Right Spectacle collects Elvis Costello’s (and The Attractions’, in most cases) music videos from ’78 to ’94, tackling every single, and even six non-singles. From the obvious (“Pump it Up,” “Radio, Radio,” “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”) to the terribly boring (“The Only Flame in Town,” “I Wanna Be Loved”), it’s all here, augmented by a slew of late-’70s/early-’80s live TV appearances. I’m sure you can do the math: More anger and raw energy in the beginning, a bit cheesed out in the ’80s (not to mention sterilized by overly slick studio production), and coming full circle back to decent songwriting toward the mid-’90s. Always entertaining are the poor editing techniques employed in the early days of music videos. Up until the Get Happy!! material, no shot of the band is ever on cue with the music. Not helping the fact are all four members’ lower lip-biting, overacting, and Costello’s nervously twitching stage performance.

But the music, ah, the music! Even though we’ve all heard “the hits” a million times, having them accompanied by visuals that most of us never saw aired on TV is a treat. “Clubland” is tastefully moody, “Good Year For the Roses” is strangely creepy, and “The Other Side of Summer” is genuinely fun and cynical at the same time. And the live clips are a kick, too. When Costello pulls a flock of Dutch girls on stage for the finale of “You Belong to Me” – or when the band continues to play despite getting rain-soaked during the Pink Pop Festival – the shit is absolutely on fire. Charismatic, latex tight, and as electrifying as a band that has toured nonstop for six years should be. I’d like to see modern rock bands try and mutate arrangements spontaneously at every show!

The Right Spectacle is thorough in chronology, historical accuracy, and its mapping of a prominent songwriter’s progression over the years. It omits no warts and lets it all hang out, for better or worse, and as a result, it gives us a pretty damn complete view of Costello’s muse during the period covered. Fantastic.