NEW YORK (Billboard) - Elvis Costello fans can’t complain about “No Action” when it comes to his catalog.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who is celebrating his 30th anniversary as a recording artist, last year struck a deal with Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) for what label president Bruce Resnikoff calls “a multipronged, multiyear, multifaceted series” of reissues and special compilations, which are being undertaken with Costello’s full cooperation and involvement.
It began with the May 1 release of “The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years” and “Rock and Roll Music,” as well as the reissue of his first 11 albums in their original form — and for the first time digitally — with codes that allow buyers access to a wealth of Internet-based bonus material.
“What we’re trying to create is the complete Elvis story over the next few years where people can effectively appreciate Elvis’ different styles of music,” Resnikoff said. “While we’re trying to do things that will satisfy the traditionalists and the hard-core Elvis fan, a big part of our strategy is also to seduce music fans who have not traditionally been among that hard-core group.”
Costello, who owns his recordings and licensed them to UMe, is not an artist who routinely delves into his past. “I know most of the records by now,” he said, “so I don’t listen to my own records very much.” But he appreciates UMe’s expansive and detailed plan for bringing his three decades of recordings to the marketplace.
“There’s a number of different ways you can focus people’s attention,” Costello said, “particularly people who are listening for the first time. There’s a lot of songs, a lot of records in a short period of time — even if you just consider the 11 records that are being reissued now. That’s quite a lot of material. So (UMe) offers a broader choice for the people who have maybe heard your name but find it a little intimidating, this big pile of music, and they don’t really know where to start.”
“The First 10 Years” and “Rock and Roll Music” — the latter of which features rarities such as an alternate take of “Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind,” live versions of “You Belong to Me” and “Mystery Dance,” and a demo of “Welcome to the Working Week” — are the first of several “thematic” compilations UMe plans to release in the program. Resnikoff said that other themes are still being decided upon, but they’ll likely focus on musical directions as well as lyrical concepts.
UMe also plans to release deluxe-edition packages of several Costello albums, starting with a 30th anniversary commemoration of his debut, “My Aim Is True,” this fall. Costello said he and the label have just started “delving down into the Cornish tin mines where the tapes are held to find out what has been left under a rock” for that project. Resnikoff said that the company is thinking about a deluxe edition of 1978’s “This Year’s Model” in 2008, along with others at appropriate intervals. The vault-plundering could also result in some full-length live albums.
Costello has agreed to extensive catalog programs before, in the mid-‘90s with Rykodisc and just a few years ago with Rhino. Those releases featured second discs and scores of bonus tracks, but Costello said the UMe program, focusing on his albums in their original form with bonus material housed online — where it can change as additional recordings are discovered — appeals to him more.
“I think it was possible for a number of years to buy every last note pertinent to each of the records in my catalog,” Costello said. “Now it isn’t going to be, and I think that’s all right.”
Resnikoff, meanwhile, said Costello’s involvement in the process makes it likely that there will be no end to UMe’s offerings. “When we made this deal, we mapped out a strategy based on what we already know with the caveat that as we discover things, that will expand,” he said. “With Elvis going through things and discovering them with us, a lot of it is as fresh to him as it is to the consumer because he hasn’t gone back and looked at it before. We call him the head of our marketing team here. He really has been an unbelievable asset, and you can’t say that about every artist in this kind of process.”