Song of the Day, October 23: All This Useless Beauty

UselessBeautyTaborUselessBeautyECAToday’s song is All This Useless Beauty. Composer Elvis Costello is a long-time fan of June Tabor, famously stating “If you don’t like listening to June Tabor, you should stop listening to music.” Putting his pen where his mouth is, Costello has composed a couple of songs especially for Tabor to sing, including this one. She included it on her amazing 1992 album Angel Tiger.

It’s a classic Costello song, telling a tale of faded glory, misplaced self-importance, and mysterious doings in the halls of power. The principle subject of the song is left with a tiresome life at the end of a career of propping up grandiose partners excited to have her beauty on their arms. Tabor channels Costello’s irony and wit perfectly, pouring it into her beautifully smoky voice and creating a stunning collaboration.

It’s at times such as this she’d be tempted to spit
If she wasn’t so ladylike
She imagines how she might have lived back when legends and history collide
So she looks to her prince finding he’s so charmingly slumped at her side
Those days are recalled on the gallery wall
And she’s waiting for passion or humour to strike
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?

Costello liked the song enough that he used it as the centerpiece of his 1996 album of the same title. A sort of reverse covers album, it’s comprised mostly of songs he wrote for others and decided to sing for himself. An odd conceit, perhaps, but it works well, and the result is one of the strongest mid-period Costello albums. Sounding both wry and maudlin, he reclaims the song as his own while taking nothing away from Tabor’s powerful delivery.

Enjoy both the writer’s reverse cover and Tabor’s masterful original today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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