Picks and Pans Review: Blood and Chocolate
Maybe some people can listen to this Costello album without falling into a fit of hysterical rock 'n' roll idol worship. But others of us are not so strong. After all the guy already has come out with the all-time great King of America album earlier this year, and here he is only months later with another fantastic disc. Switching out of the country-pop mode he explored on King of America, Elvis returns to the tough, scrappy kind of sound that recalls his 1978 album, This Year's Model. His original backup band, the Attractions, again provides a pounding beat and carnival-style organ riffs while Costello's fiancée, Cait O'Riordan of the Pogues, adds a new gentle touch with her background vocals. The spare arrangements, produced by Nick Lowe, let Costello's wavery vibrato, Everly Brothers-style harmonies, whispers and hoarse groans ring out with greater expressiveness than ever. He sings as if his vocal cords form a fragile old instrument that requires great care in playing. Telling stories primarily about jealousy and faithless love, Costello's lyrics often sound too personal for outsiders to understand. Still he laces the obscurity with more generally meaningful images. "You're tough and transparent as armored glass" he sings. Costello's prayer for love, I Want You, projects a frightening degree of intensity, as if it were a vaguely obscene phone call that listeners get to tap into without Costello's knowing anything about it. The best song on the album is Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head, which mixes the songwriter's characteristically deft wordplay with a lush melody. Costello, who when the mood strikes him occasionally renounces his stage name in favor of his given name Declan McManus, dubs himself Napolean Dynamite on the Blood and Chocolate jacket. As evidenced by the music on this 13th album, it doesn't really matter what he calls himself. The best word to describe him is genius. (Columbia)
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