A mere seven months ago, Elvis Costello was looking, sounding and apparently feeling like the proverbial new man.
He finally had divorced his wife, the poor wretch he had cut to ribbons in 10-odd years' worth of lyrics, the brilliantly sarcastic likes of which have never been heard in pop music.
He was about to marry Cait O'Riordan, the bassist for The Pogues.
He supposedly had changed his name back to the handle he was born with, Declan MacManus.
And he had just released King of America, a first-rate album that showed a more subdued, more controlled Costello on the road back from one or two uncharacteristically flat records, having thrown aside his longtime sidemen, The Attractions, for a new and varied cast of players.
Why, the man had even subjected himself to a long feature in People magazine.
So, seven months later, what's Declan/Elvis MacManus/Costello up to? Well, he's Elvis Costello again (professionally, at least), with The Attractions and Nick Lowe, his producer on the first five of his previous 10 albums, and he's still ragging on the lady who's now his ex. Hear all the gory details on Costello's 11th and latest album, Blood & Chocolate (Columbia), which hit the local record stores this week.
If King of America exhibited the calming influence of his love affair with O'Riordan, then the new LP is where Costello comes to grips with all the angst of his divorce from the former Mrs. C. "You think it's over now but it's only just begun," he rasps in the opener, "Uncomplicated." He isn't kidding either.
The blade gets sharper and digs deeper in the second cut, the incongruously bouncy "I Hope You're Happy Now," when he betrays jealousy over his ex-wife's finding a new squeeze. "I know this will hurt you more than it hurts me," Costello sings, probably referring to the catharsis that is this album. He adds, in one of the most telling and vicious lines of his career, "I knew then what I know now, I never loved you anyhow."
Sorry, girls, but this fella's already spoken for.
Jealousy again rears its ugly head in "I Want You," nearly a soundalike to the John Lennon tune of the same name on The Beatles' Abbey Road. Here Elvis turns every color of the rainbow — red with rage, green with envy, blue with sadness, not to mention a little yellow — as he puts down his old love's new love, and in another song, he admits to having trouble shaking the pain of the split. "Home isn't anywhere it used to be," he sings, "home is anywhere you hang your head."
While Costello's lyrics are typically dead-on, the general sound of Blood & Chocolate is another source of amazement. The LP mixes the punk edge of 1978's This Year's Model with the eerie dreaminess of 1982's Imperial Bedroom. Elvis and producer Lowe keep the instrumentation in the background, almost as if at times it's an afterthought to Costello's confessional vocals.
Indeed, always up front is Costello's voice, a stunning instrument in its own right and one that becomes more impressive with each successive effort. His whisper-to-a-scream vocal on "Battered Old Bird" is particularly dazzling. Few if any other pop vocalists can touch this guy when he's right, and on Blood & Chocolate, he's right.
For the record: The Attractions are drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Bruce Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve. Lowe adds acoustic guitar to a few tracks, and O'Riordan sings here and there.