Elvis Costello goes digital

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Another holdout from the 21st Century comes around! Universal Music Enterprises, a specialty division of Universal Music Group, and partner Hip-O Records announced today that Elvis Costello’s first 11 albums -- from the perfect ‘My Aim Is True’ through the near-perfect ‘King of America’ -- would finally become available online. The launch date is May 1 on iTunes, May 31 everywhere else. If ever there was a reason to get happy, this is it. Although Costello’s later work has been available from download stores and subscription services, the early classics were not -- at Costello’s direction. But the angriest man in New Wave has come around at last, which means that any 16-year-old Rhapsody user who’s had trouble hearing the genius in ‘When I Was Cruel’ can spend some quality time exploring ‘This Year’s Model.’

IMHO, the two main winners here are Costello, who may now start to get paid by the millions of people who prefer downloads and streams to CDs, and subscription services such as Rhapsody, which need a broad and deep library to satisfy their users’ musical cravings. Some major pieces remain missing, of course -- including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Garth Brooks -- but adding the classic Costello catalog will plug a huge hole.

For those with smaller appetites for brilliant music and lyrics, UME and Hip-O are releasing two new collections culled from Costello’s first decade of recordings. One is a straightforward hits package, but the other, a more aggressive set called ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ sprinkles in some lesser-known tracks and alternate versions. Still, if you’re going to buy just one Costello record, I say forget the compilations and go with ‘Imperial Bedroom.’