Elvis Costello: The Muddle Ages

Funny things happen to you when you get older, like developing an appreciation for the later efforts in your favorite musicians’ discographies—the ones that you always dismissed as being tired and uninspired when you were too young and foolish to acknowledge that anyone over thirty could do anything interesting.

This is what happened to me recently when, out of the blue, I suddenly started actually enjoying Elvis Costello’s post-1980s albums. Costello’s first decade of work produced a nearly unbroken string of masterpieces that I listened to obsessively in my youth. But after I exhausted those I waded into the cloudier waters of his later albums—more or less everything after 1989’s “Spike”—more out of loyalty than genuine interest, and they left me generally unmoved. At some point I stopped paying attention to his new output altogether.

Then, one day recently, and for no apparent reason than just being old, I started playing them again and hearing something I had missed entirely before. These later works weren’t just pale echoes of lost adolescence, but something different altogether: they were the products of a mature, thoughtful, yet still restless songwriting talent that had become interested in more than just the primal cravings of youth. Which is to say that most young people still won’t enjoy them, but if you’re willing to give them a chance, you’re likely to discover that they’re teeming with gems that rival his classics.

Now I’m relishing this newly ‘unearthed’ trove of albums much as I did his back catalog in my teens, when I discovered “This Year’s Model,” “Armed Forces,” “Get Happy,” “Trust,” “Imperial Bedroom” and all those other seminal releases for the first time. So I’ve been playing “Brutal Youth,” “All This Useless Beauty,” “The Delivery Man,” “Momofuku,” “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane,” “National Ransom,” “Wise Up Ghost” and the others all on heavy rotation. They’ve made me thankful for my advancing age, in fact; I can now enjoy literally dozens of songs whose sterling quality escaped me earlier.

To make my case to the skeptics, I’ve assembled this playlist of some of my favorite tracks from these albums. I call it “The Muddle Ages,” and it’s available on Rdio and embedded courtesy of that service below. It’s also on Spotify—though for some reason one of the tracks, “When I Was Cruel No. 2,” is missing from their streaming catalog. I sincerely think you’ll enjoy it if you keep an open mind, but if after a fair listen you remain unimpressed, then maybe bookmark this page and come back when you’re a little older? You may be glad you did.

Update: Unfortunately, Rdio is no more as of Nov 2015.


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