When I heard the name Elvis Costello three years ago, the words that came to mind were devoted, realistic, poetic, and faithful. These were the themes that were represented in his music. Costello's early albums, My Aim is True, This Year's Model, and Armed Forces, showed his musical genius and were highly praised by the critics. His sound was not very top 40ish, but extremely identifiable. Many groups are easily recognized for the sole reason that all of their songs sound the same. This was not true in Elvis' case. His vocal style was unique to the music scene and could never have been confused with that of anyone else.
Within the last few years, Elvis changed a great deal from his earlier days. He did not seem committed to the true meaning of his songs. Elvis' last original album, Goodbye Cruel World, was an effort unlike any before. The music was shallow, as though he didn't have faith in what he was singing about. Did the words make any sense or did they just rhyme?
When I heard the news of a new Elvis Costello LP, I thought it would be another commercial effort containing songs similar to "The Only Flame in Town," the top 40 duet between Elvis and Daryl Hall from Goodbye Cruel World. The first selection I heard from the new album, King of America, was "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." I loved his rendition of The Animals' classic and hoped that the rest of the album would be as good. I listened to the entire record, reading along with the lyric sheet. I then discovered why Elvis had chosen to sing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"; it was a plea. A plea to be forgiven for his sellout to commercialism and to give his new record a chance. The real Elvis Costello had returned. Elvis Costello recently changed his name back to Declan McManus, his given name, to show a retreat to his roots.
The tone of the new record is a very different one. The constant trademark of an Elvis song was the changing tempos. both vocally and musically. On King of America the music takes a back seat to the lyrics. There are no guitar or keyboard solos; the focus is always on the lyrics. The words are pronounced syllabic by syllable, something rare on previous Elvis tracks.
"Brilliant Mistake," "American Without Tears," and "Jack of All Parades" are my favorites. To tell you what they mean or stand for would be unjust. My interpretation is no more correct than yours. The only important thing is that you know, no matter what your visions of the songs' meanings. that Elvis Costello is sincere in his music. He is truly the King of America.