Those who despise the dry cleverness and coy intellectualism of Elvis Costello will be cheered to learn that he won't be around much longer. The British genius of song has legally changed his name back to the name he was born with, Declan McManus.
King of America, his new LP, is a visitor's less-than-flattering view of the United States. It begins with "Brilliant Mistake," a typically disturbing Costello song in which his tremulous voice sounds more naked and true than it has in years. It is a wonderful song, and the rest of the album is no less satisfying.
King of America the 12th Costello album, and his first U.S. recording since 1981's Almost Blue is an alternately straightforward and ironic collection that plays on many of the same themes Costello has dealt with previously: profound disillusionment, domestic life and strife, romantic game-playing and betrayal.
Costello's always dexterous wordplay is only a bit less obtuse than on his last album, the overproduced mass of sly confusion called Goodbye, Cruel World. Here, the sometimes-dense lyrics are put into a warm, gutsy environment that sounds neither mannered nor self-conscious. The sound is roots-oriented, sparse yet rich, with plenty of American folk, blues and country flavorings.
For this, easily his best effort since 1982's Imperial Bedroom, Costello has effectively jettisoned the band that has been linked with him all these years. The Attractions play on just one track, "Suit of Lights."
Costello — sorry, the name McManus hasn't sunk in yet — employed some hot studio musicians for the live sessions, including Hall & Oates' rhythm section, and Southerner Mitchell Froom, who played keyboards, mostly Hammond organ.
As with every Costello album, King of America works on many levels at once. It is frequently cool and intellectual, but also affectionate and downright lovable. Among other things, the LP is a near-perfect farewell to Elvis Costello. Bring on Declan McManus, I think we're ready for you now. Based on this album, the name has "best new artist of 1986" written all over it.