Augustana College Observer, October 15, 1986

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Costello's Blood and Chocolate:
This year's second masterpiece


Metranil Vavin

Elvis Costello And The Attractions
Blood And Chocolate

"Oh, I just don't know where to begin..." sang Elvis Costello at the beginning of his third album Armed Forces, and on this thirteenth long play release, the man doesn't know where to stop.

Earlier in the year, Costello retreated from his stage name and abandoned The Attractions to build The Confederates from friends like T-Bone Burnett and his fiance Cait O'Riordan from The Pogues. On King Of America, released in March, Costello (MacManus) carefully assessed his past, present and future. In the end, he found that his future included his old mates, The Attractions, with long time producer Nick Lowe at the controls.

On Blood And Chocolate, Costello puts on a new identity, that of Napoleon Dynamite (nicked from Eamonn Singer's cover painting). On the music, Costello sings like a born again singer-and-activist. His voice is grating and the most uneasy listening of his career.

On the preview single, "Tokyo Storm Warning," Costello gives a vivid cascade of international horror images. "Tokyo" fuses Costello's burning anxiety from his last LP with images picked at random, as if turning the TV selector to various stations. "Death wears a big hat 'cause he is a big bloke," sings Costello spitefully. The music owes obvious debts to "Memphis Tennessee," "19th Nervous Breakdown" and a swaggering beat, much like Bob Dylan's early electric period.

The other songs pull much in the same way. Costello pinches ideas from many sources, some ultimately from his past ("Crimes of Paris" is close to Imperial Bedroom's "Pidgin English"). Costello pushes his guitar into gear against Pete Thomas' pounding drums. Steve Nieve's organ or tinkling piano fades in and out occasionally. But it is the near-absence of Bruce Thomas on the bass that is disappointing.

"Uncomplicated" opens the album on a coarse note. With the band pounding (and I mean pounding) out the same pattern of chords while Costello wails away: "Blood And Chocolate / I hope you're satisfied what you have done." Throughout the album, the band will slip into these abrasive moments and then depart. Even the ballads are rough. "I Want You" turns from an acoustic love song into a harrowing tale of an embittered obsession complete with psycho-Costello vocals.

Ultimately, this album rests its power on Costello's knack to write a good song. On this album, different songs seem to stand out on every play. "I Hope You're Happy Now and "Blue Chair" are quick winners, but the barn burners like "I Want You" or "Battered Old Bird" build in your memory. They sneak up on you when you're sleeping and attack you the next morning over toast and coffee.

Finally, Costello's words, never easy to digest, rest as the cornerstone to make this a welcome resurrection with the Attractions. The last two meetings, Punch The Clock and Goodbye Cruel World, were forced and over produced.

Blood And Chocolate is no King of America with surprises at every turn. But it calls out for those past Elvis And The Attractions listeners... Elvis is back!

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The Observer, October 15, 1986


Metranil Vavin reviews Blood & Chocolate.

Images

1986-10-15 Augustana College Observer page 06 clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1986-10-15 Augustana College Observer page 06.jpg
Page scan.

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