Costello wrote most of these songs for other artists and then sat down with the Attractions to record his own versions. The roots-rocker "Complicated Shadows" was heard on FM rock stations, though it's the torchy ballads like the title track, "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone?" and "Poor Fractured Atlas" that stand out. "Shallow Grave" was co-written with Paul McCartney while Costello worked on "The Other End of the Telescope" with Aimee Mann. To comprehend underrated vocal skills, compare Mann's version with his: with Mann you get a melody and a feeling; with Costello, you get a personal story.