Review of Spike
Music Express, 1989-04-01
- Kerry Doole


(Warner Bros.)

Al last count, this was the prolific singer/ songwriter's 12th album in as many years, but his first since 1986's double whammy of King Of America and Blood And Chocolate. The wait for El has been hell for those of us unequivocally certain Costello is the best pop poet of the day, but Spike rewards our patience by revealing itself as a typical Elvis album— musically adventurous, lyrically funny, angry and compassionate by turns. New label Warners clearly opened their wallet, for Elvis has assembled a trans-Atlantic superstar cast—Paul McCartney, Roger McGuinn, Chrissie Hynde, members of The Chieftains and Tom Waits' band, New Orleans' wonderful Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and co-producer T Bone Burnett. As ever, Elvis remains totally in command, but the supporting players help him flit effortlessly from style to style—jazz, gospel, pure pop, cabaret, folk. Even on a simple pop song like first single Veronica (co-written by McCartney), he adds baroque flourishes courtesy of cello and trumpet, then moves to the jazz/cabaret black humor of God's Comic. Only Elvis would have the cheek to write a ditty that sees him charting to the Big Guy upstairs, observing that God wonders, "If I should have given the world to the monkeys?" When the occasion demands, Costello drops the humor and irony and stands alone with his icy anger. Tramp The Dirt Down is a chillingly personal hate letter to Margaret Thatcher, his personification of evil—"I'd like to live long enough to savor when they put you in the ground." Similarly, Let Him Dangle is a vitriolic attack on capital punishment based on a real incident. Elvis has always given generous length to his recordings (14 tracks on the LP, 15 on the CD), so even when you subtract lesser numbers like Pads Paws And Claws or the instrumental Stalin Malone, you're still left with more magical minutes per record than anyone else around. His aim is still true.

(By Kerry Doole)