There’s not usually a lot to say about “super deluxe” re-issues. Listener interest usually depends on how much the particular listener likes the artist and these releases where no stone is left unturned are full of what the super-fan might call essential and everyone else would call filler. And so it is with this “deluxe” version of my favorite Elvis Costello record (with the Attractions or otherwise). There are nine pieces of vinyl (3×12″, 3×10″ and 3×7″) containing the remastered LP, outtakes and live sets from at least four different shows. Most of the material is cool, but unessential and/or previously released.
To their credit, the live recordings do feel live. The songs are quicker and more urgent and the crowd noise is not totally filtered out, but as much as I love Armed Forces, I’m not sure I need to hear all of these recordings. For instance, the version of “Big Boys” from the Pinkpop show is not so different from the one at the Regent Theatre. Both are listenable and I have a slight preference for latter, but only a Costello nut probably feels the need to hear both. The Live at Hollywood High tracks have already seen the light of day on a 2002 “deluxe” re-issue, so anyone who needs to hear them already has.
Outtakes are always a mixed bag. Titled Sketches for Emotional Fascism, the ones included here are largely included on 1980’s Taking Liberties outtakes release. “Clean Money” would probably make it on a lot of records in 1979, but it’s pretty clear why it wasn’t on a proper album given the quality of what Costello was doing at the time. “Talking in the Dark” probably should have stayed in the vault yet here finds yet another appearance. Of the two songs that did make Armed Forces in different versions, “Big Boys” feels more incomplete than alternate., but the demo version of “Green Shirt” is probably the only thing over the course of 60 tracks and 198 minutes that I was really excited about. Maybe it’s because it’s my favorite song on the record, but the stripped down demo version really makes it clear how good a song it was from the start. Laid bare as just voice and acoustic guitar, the song is every bit as good as the final version.
Along with the music, there are the requisite non-musical bonus materials. Frankly, I’m not sure who wants to read Costello go on about his music for nearly 10,000 words though.
As super deluxe releases go, Armed Forces had the potential to be one of the better ones, up there with U2’s super deluxe version of Joshua Tree. A few interesting outtakes and some good live material give the release a lot of appeal if you really love Elvis Costello, but as much as I do, especially this record, there was little I found essential and far too much that many of us already have on other records. If there wasn’t enough “new” material to warrant nine pieces of vinyl, maybe the release should have been scaled back. More is not always actually more.
Released: November 6, 2020