It's hard to believe that a quarter century has elapsed since skinny, twitchy, bespectacled Declan McManus assumed the name of the King, changing the face of rock forever in the process. This 42-song collection distills Costello's career with remarkable sharpness, offering not just snapshots from along the way but a genuine aural documentary that follows various threads -- the fluency in country's lexicon, the crafty arrangements, the soulful spelunking -- from era to era. Folks who are most fond of the Attractions' golden age will be pleased, since a good bit of the material dates to Costello's first decade of recording, including underappreciated classics like the seething "Green Shirt" and the sweeping "Big Tears." Abundant evidence of Costello's angry-young-man phase is aired here -- notably "Radio Radio" and the sinuous "Watching the Detectives" -- but that's nicely balanced by the warmth of classic covers such as "Good Year for the Roses." Both his songwriting and his delivery have grown more nuanced over the years, a progression that can be traced through middle-period favorites like "The Other Side of Summer" and "Everyday I Write the Book," both of which glide along on the go-for-baroque backing that he perfected in the late '80s and early '90s. Towards the end of the nicely annotated set's second disc, Costello dons his current guise -- that of the crooner, the pre-rock traditionalist. And while it may be a bit discombobulating to reconcile the orchestra-backed belter of "God Give Me Strength" with the snotty punk of "Pump It Up," The Very Best of Elvis Costello connects the dots cleverly enough so that it all makes sense in the end.