Elvis Costello’s 1996 album All This Useless Beauty featured mostly songs he had initially written for other artists. ‘The Other End of the Telescope,’ for example, was written with Aimee Mann and first appeared on ‘Til Tuesday’s fine album Everything’s Different Now.
Today’s track, ‘Complicated Shadows,’ was written for Johnny Cash, though the Man in Black opted not to record it. He did, however, record two other Costello tunes, ‘The Big Light’ and ‘Hidden Shame,’ during his career.
Ah, my favorite kind of Random Weekend — one that falls on the birthday of a loved one. This allows me to dedicate the song to the person — in this case my sister — sight unseen and then see what fate serves up.
So here we go… Happy Birthday, Amy! This mystery song is for you!
It’s funny how some songs drift in and out of our good graces.
When Elvis Costello released 1996’s All This Useless Beauty, I loved every minute of it, including (perhaps especially) its opening track, ‘The Other End (of the Telescope).’
Years later the song started to get on my nerves, particularly due to one lyric toward the end in which Costello sings of putting “a bamboo needle on a shellac of Chopin,” as pretentious a phrase as he’s ever uttered.
I’ve said before that I like Elvis Costello doing country better than Elvis Costello doing almost anything else. And here’s another song that supports that opinion.
‘Starting to Come to Me’ is treated like a throwaway on All This Useless Beauty. It’s tucked away toward the end of the album, a rare upbeat track on a record full of portentous ballads. But this is the song that hit me first and has stayed with me more than any other on the album.
Elvis Costello followed the covers album Kojak Variety with an album of original material just a year later. 1996’s All This Useless Beauty was originally conceived as an album of songs Costello penned for other singers but somewhere along the line that concept fell through.
The finished album does contain several such tracks (including ‘Complicated Shadows,’ written for Johnny Cash, and ‘The Other End of the Telescope,’ written with Aimee Mann and recorded by ‘Til Tuesday eight years earlier) but it also features quite a few songs seeing light for the first time.
Costello followed Brutal Youth with Kojak Variety, a forgettable covers collection that felt more like a contractual obligation than a new Elvis Costello album. But a year later he was back with the strong All This Useless Beauty, an elegant collection of songs he’d mostly written for other people.
Some had been recorded by other artists, some had been turned down, some were written new for the album… the whole concept was kind of half-baked from the start. The important thing was that Costello was back with a new batch of original material, keeping up the enviable pace of one release per year that he’d maintained since his debut.