A threat of conflicting egos always looms backstage when talented musicians collaborate. Elvis Costello avoids this potential animosity by choosing an indistinct band as his ally. Unfortunately, this sacrifice compromises his own artistic ability.
In Blood and Chocolate, the recent album release by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Costello's voice possesses a soulful quality — he sings of love and despair with a dark cynicism. Costello is refreshingly organic, overcoming the glossy vocals characteristic of many studio pop musicians.
His sorrowful lyrics will hypnotize emotional listeners. In "Battered Old Bird," Costello sings, "He danced upon the bonfire - swallowed sleeping pills like dreams - with a bottle of sweet sherry that everything redeems." Costello deals with the feelings of ordinary people.
The appeal of Blood and Chocolate reaches no further. Acoustic guitarist Nick Lowe and pianist Steve Nieve assist in many of the cuts, but their contribution is muddled by a brew of overcrowded instruments. No solos highlight the record, which drastically limits its variety. The music leaves no impression through the majority of the album — Costello is the only attraction.
"Blue Chair" is the only song on the record with chart potential. A lively melody flows through the chorus, with powerful backing vocals echoing Costello. He rapidly improvises at the end of "Blue Chair," creating a thrilling, danceable sound. He instills a sense of sadness through the lyrics, which contemplate the blues of romance. "Blue Chair" has an appealing nature that never reappears in the rest of the album.
For some mysterious reason, Costello changes his name to Napoleon Dynamite on Blood and Chocolate. On the record's front cover, a strange abstract artwork appears — a portrait entitled "Napoleon Dynamite." It is painted with bizarre, swirling colors of dark purple, red, and black, with murky facial features. Presumably, the painting is a portrayal of Costello, which would be quite appropriate for a person characterized by sorrow and anger.
Costello has the potential to become a great artist, but he cannot succeed without strong contributions from others. Even brilliant vocals are unsatisfying without an inviting musical background. Costello should wave goodbye to "The Attractions" and find more impressive musicians.