Elvis Costello is one of England's finest songwriters. While not every one of his albums is critically acclaimed, or even good, he has produced more original material in the last 12 years than any human should be allowed. In fact, his most recent album, Spike, boasts 15 songs and over an hour in running time.
Quantity is not synonymous with quality, so I will venture to say that of the 15 songs, 12 are quite good, and that's still more than most groups produce in a whole year. Oh well, so much for playing with the readouts on the disc. In all reality, Costello is back in a big way. He is at times more melancholy and bitter than ever. Other times, he's singing laughable dance tunes with a tuba doing the bass part. In other words, Costello has come forth with one of the finest albums I've heard in a long time, by him or anyone else.
"This Town" opens the album with an indictment of local gossipers and the reputations that can be made in small towns. Costello sings, "You're nobody till everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard."
"Let Him Dangle" is Costello's statement against capital punishment with an eery, evil backbeat reminiscent of his early days. "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" is a moody cut that lashes out at those who create their little worlds of delusion and are afraid to face reality. One of the things that always made Costello's image was the fact that he had so many axes to grind and, it seems, time has not mellowed him out.
"Veronica" and "God's Comic" are both Costello masterpieces. The first is a charming ode to what once was through the eyes of an elderly lady now all but shut off from the world. In it he says, "Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own and a delicate look in her eye. These days, I'm afraid she's not even sure that her name is Veronica."
Costello had some major league help on this cut. Paul McCartney sat in on this touching piece of work and played bass.
The second masterpiece is about a dead vaudevillian who goes to heaven and speaks to God, who is lounging on a waterbed, listening to music and drinking a soft drink. God tells the comic, "I've been wading through all this unbelievable junk and wondering if I should have given the world to the monkeys."
"Chewing Gum" and the instrumental "Stalin Malone" are both funky, horn-laden cuts that give the album a bit of comic relief and levity.
`Tramp the Dirt Down" is perhaps the most vicious thing on the whole album. He calls England the "whore of the world" and Thatcher, its madam. It says a great deal for the English common folk who are dealing with epic economic problems and unemployment.
On "Pads, Paws and Claws" Costello kicks in strong for an all out rocker with rockabilly overtones. "Baby Plays Around" is the classic "I've-been-done-wrong" cut that rings in quite bittersweet.
There are a few songs on Spike that don't quite make it, but most are good and a number are utterly fantastic. I urgently recommend this to any avid observer of the fine art of songwriting. One might consider it a text.
This review appears courtesy of the Record Bar in Governor's Square Mall.