Elvis Costello. The first and last words in intelligent pop / rock.
The crooner with a conscience, frequently called the most important songwriter of his generation.
He is a man with a mission who sings it as he sees it, remarking on the state of society through his very distinctive music. His most recent album, entitled Spike, is yet another example of Costello's quirky charm and inimitable style.
Side One begins with "This Town," a tune about the seductiveness of corruption — how it decays men and empowers women ("Although he swears that he's the salt of the earth / He's so proud of the 'kick me hard' sign that they hung on his back at birth... She wiped him off, she wiped him out, and then she made him confess").
"Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" is full of surreal images and ambiguous lyrics ("A butterfly drinks a turtle's tears / but how do you know he really needs it?") in which Elvis paints a musical portrait of a desperate drunk who escapes into a world of his own hallucinations. Clearly, Costello isn't called a serious musician for nothing.
Elvis, ever the versatile artist, displays his powerful vocals on "Let Him Dangle," singing with great understated feeling about how society can "hang you," his voice literally pleaing within his music.
The hit track on Spike is "Veronica." Costello wrote the song for his grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
Although the catchy tune and happy-sounding chorus are big reasons for its current popularity on the airwaves, this song is also a sad account of a mystifying and terrifying fact of life, and Costello really captures that, further proving his multi-dimensionality as an artist.
Side Two has a four-minute instrumental track entitled "Stalin Mallone" that harks back to the Swing Era. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band does the honors, creating a mood to snap to or swoon by. It's a clever surprise on the album, and an enjoyable one as well.
In "Pads, Paws and Claws" Costello strikes a rhythmic, raunchy chord, with a sound that feels almost like a heartbeat in the background.
On "Baby Plays Around," he switches to the sensitive Elvis, singing softly and painfully ("It's not open to discussion anymore / She's out again tonight and I'm alone once more") with only his guitar accompanying hint throughout most of the song.
Although he has a reputation for being caustic in his music, Costello is believable as a torch singer too. He brings a sense of truth to all his songs, giving himself the freedom to sing about whatever he chooses, in whatever manner feels right for him. Bells and a distant organ provide the mood behind Costello's soft and sad tone on this track.
After twelve years of recording, eleven albums and many pseudonyms (he's gone from calling himself the Imposter, Emotional Toothpaste and Napolean Dynamite to using his real name — Declan McManus) Elvis Costello has exhibited more of the same fiesty stuff that he's made of on Spike.