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Rhino presents
The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello (1978-94)

"And it's the damage that we do/And never know/It's the words that we don't say/That scare me so"
- Elvis Costello

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: September 26, 2005

Stars: Elvis Costello
Other Stars: Steve Nieve, Bruce Thomas, Pete Thomas, Daryl Hall
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 01:39:27
Release Date: September 27, 2005
UPC: 603497040926
Genre: music

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-B+A- A

DVD Review

Video collections are pretty basic things; grab a bunch of the artist's videos, stick them in chronological order, and voilà! So it is with The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello, courtesy of Rhino. The difference with this disc comes in the superior quality of the music (my opinion, at least) and the excellent array of live performances, which will be a must for fans of Elvis. The quality of the videos ranges from seriously dull to quite good, but this collection does cover the bulk of Costello's career, which makes it further essential.

Starting with tracks from 1978's This Year's Model through to 1994's Brutal Youth, the disc gathers 28 promos, including a few that were never actually released as singles. The "Very Best" part of the disc title is consequently a bit of a misnomer, since there are plenty of classic tracks that didn't have videos made for them. The earliest videos, which include classic songs like (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea, and Radio Radio, are pretty poor. Seen back to back, as noted by Costello in his commentary, some of the early videos were shot in the same room, in the same style, with only minor clothing changes. Needless to say, it was likely never considered that these clips would be seen back to back in this format, but the frugality of the moment becomes quickly apparent. It's not really until about midway through the tracklist that things begin to get a little more imaginative, with the New Lace Sleeves from 1981's Trust looking like it was directed by someone who actually cared enough to give things a reasonably artful look.

Even with that said, most of the remaining videos still adhere to the tired "band playing the song in a room" motif, though they at least look much better. Notable exceptions include The Only Flame in Town, from the otherwise unfortunate Goodbye Cruel World album, which has chuckle-inducing moments and even guest stars Daryl Hall, who sang harmony on the song. Following on its heels is I Wanna Be Loved, which is immediately noticeable as a clear predecessor to U2's Numb (something Costello even mentions in the commentary). This video is actually the more powerful than the U2 version, with a clearly emotionally fraught Elvis occasionally singing as random people enter on either side to kiss him or otherwise pester him. It's a bit uncomfortable to watch, which is more than you can say for most videos. Costello's 1989 hit Veronica, which won an MTV Video Award, takes Costello's tale of his Alzheimer-impaired grandmother and spins forth a thoughtful clip about memories flashing before an old woman's eyes, bracketed with Costello's own memories of his grandmother. There are a few other notable inclusions here, enough to offset the dullness of the early clips, however amusing they are in a historical context.

In the end, this sort of collection boils down to whether you like the artist enough to shell out for the videos, particularly when, as in Costello's case, his record companies didn't pay for elaborate, arty videos enjoyed by the chart toppers of the day. For fans, this is a no question purchase, which is reflected in my recommendation; others may find themselves less impressed, as "Director's Series" material this is often not.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The source material for some of this material was not great to start with, but this disc looks about as good as we could expect. The videos bear their fundamental weaknesses of image without further limitations from the transfers; everything looks solid and clean. The newer the video, the better the footage. The extra live footage is the same; mostly on videotape, it has the limitations of that format, but overall it too is otherwise clean.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Right Spectacle features a Dolby 2.0 mix that showcases the music well, but not to any spectacular degree. The songs sound clean and punchy, like they should. The live European TV material sounds better than I would have expected as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Elvis Costello
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage live performances from European television programs
  2. Booklet with commentary on live material by Elvis Costello
Extras Review: Here is where many fans will find the greatest interest. Foremost is the commentary by Costello himself, and while not overly chatty, he provides plenty of sardonic observations on the videos, noting his and the band's level of drunkenness during a given shoot, the dodgy sense of fashion they often exhibited, and so on. It's entertaining, but left me wanting a lot more. It's too bad that Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas couldn't contribute here as well, since they still play in Costello's band, and they were on hand for many of these videos. In an appreciated move, the commentary is also available as a subtitle track if you want to hear the songs without interruption.

Next is the live footage (01h:08m:28s) gathered from a series of European television programs, and it should be noted these are indeed live performances, not lip sync shows like the UK's Top of the Pops. The performances cover the years from 1977 to 1983, and the performances are all solid at the very least. The song selection covers the popular Costello tracks like Radio Radio and Watching the Detectives to lesser-known songs like Shot With His Own Gun and TKO (Boxing Day). Elvis writes brief, witty recollections of each appearance in the booklet accompanying the disc, and makes an oblique mention of the possibility of more such recordings making their way to home video in the future. Whether this is simply aimless talk or hinting at a possible future release is up for question, however.

Finally, mention should be made of an easter egg in the videos section. By going to the chapter selection screen which includes The Only Flame in Town, arrowing up will show a pair of glasses, which will allow the viewer to select the hidden, original video for that song. The video is unique in that it features Costello without glasses. The video itself is fairly dull, with most of the focus on Costello's face, but it's an interesting curio nonetheless. Like the other videos, this one includes Costello's commentary as well.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

For Elvis Costello fans, this is basically a must-have disc; even if one has an aversion to music videos, the hour-plus of vintage live performances and commentary by Costello provide a reason to get this. The less than stellar source material looks about as good as one could expect, with clean transfers and a good sound mix.


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