King Of America
Edsel MANUS 111 (58:02) (76:54)
Long awaited deluxe double-disc of a mid-period masterpiece.
After seven years of constant touring and knocking out at least one album every 12 months, relations between Costello and his Attractions were on the verge of collapse by the tail-end of 1984. Total creative burnout would not have been a surprise.
Decamping to Los Angeles with new buddy T-Bone Burnett, Elvis emerged reenergised in early ‘86 with what many fans still regard as his best work. King Of America employed various A-list sessioneers, dubbed The Confederates, who allowed Costello to tailor his sound to the individual requirements of each song, while creating an overall vibe of rootsy Americana. The Attractions, as a contained working unit, featured on just one track.
It also signalled a shift in EC’s lyrics, the dense wordplay and ambiguity of old giving way to a stark directness in the defiant love of I’ll Wear It Proudly (occasionally covered by Radiohead in concert), the torch Jazz of Poisoned Rose, or the ex-pat odyssey American Without Tears.
Saleswise, it was his first release since the debut My Aim Is True to fall short of the UK Top 10, but it was plainly a significant turning point towards the musical daring of todays Costello, a bold leap off the frantic career treadmill that came so close to destroying him.
Half of the bonus disc’s 20 songs were on initial copies of a mid’90s reissue, and they’re supplemented here by several of EC’s original acoustic demos plus three especially notable tracks. The grandiose ballad Having It All was written for Patsy Kensit to sing in Absolute Beginners, but the movie’s producers ultimately plumped for a more basic — read less vocally taxing — ditty of the same title written by Kensit herself; Betrayal is an upbeat anti-Thatcher tirade which evolved into the more sombre Tramp The Dirt Down on 1989’s Spike; and there’s a hitherto unheard solo rendition of Richard Thompson’s End Of The Rainbow that Elvis later re-recorded for a heroin-themed charity album. As this is the most eagerly anticipated item in Demon’s lengthy reissue campaign, leaving it to (almost) last has somehow made its arrival an even bigger cause for celebration.