Declan Patrick Aloysius "Elvis Costello" MacManus should be a very happy man.
In the last few years he has managed to marry the Pogue of his dreams (Cait O'Riordan, seemingly the last Pogue with her real teeth, and swing what was surely a major, big bucks recording deal with Warner Bros. Records, the same company who managed to lure R.E.M. into their parlour, and who are attempting to buy the contracts of every major artist in the free world. Now, just last week, he released his best album since his debut My Aim is True; and to top it all off, he got to work with Rock God Paul McCartney.
No need to be frightened... Paul doesn't sing at all. He just plays the bass on the two tunes he co-wrote with D.P.A. Again, fear not, Elvis, sorry, Declan must have kept control of the songwriting because at no time are these tunes even remotely similar in any way, shape or form to "Ebony and Ivory" or "Say, Say, Say," nor are we subjected to anything as horrible as Pipes of Peace (the only album ever known to sound better in its Muzak version). Good old Paul returns to his "Twist and Shout" days, co-writing the first single "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws & Claws," both wonderful rockers.
"Veronica" is a flashback to Declan's "Elvis" days, when his aim was truest, and he had not yet wrapped himself in the less-worn pages of Webster's dictionary of deep, dark, hyberboles. "Pads..." rocks as hard and loud as the Elvis anthem "Pump It Up," and includes some of his most startling shrieks since "The Eisenhower Blues" from a few albums back.
Getting back to his music, what would you get if the Pogues ever crashed a Chieftains jam session? You'd be getting something like "Stallin Malone," an upbeat instrumental performed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, just one of the many superstar guests who managed to drop by for a recording session or three. Others include Chrissie Hynde (supplying superb vocal harmony on "Satellite"), T-Bone Burnett, Jerry Marotta, Benmont Tench and a stellar cast of dozens who helped round out the "sessions" band.
When the music mellows, Declan takes the forefront with some of his most powerful and direct lyrics ever written. "Any King's Shilling," a Celtic flavored ballad and "Last Boat Leaving" both deal with the pain and sorrow of separation (due to conscription and/or military service).
But Declan saves his sharpest darts and daggers for the Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher in "Tramp the Dirt Down":
"When England was the whore of the world / Margaret was her madam" and "When they finally put you in the ground / I'll stand on your Grave and tramp the dirt down."
After tossing and turning between Elvis Costello (his pseudonym since his Stiff/I.R.S. debut) and Declan MacManus, "...This Town..." offers a very clear and concise explanation for his wishing to return to his real name. Y'see, Elvis Costello was a marketing strategy: an obnoxious, hate-filled, crass little bastard of epic proportions... and he managed to sell a warehouse full of albums with it. Like the song says: "You're nobody 'til everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard."
But he's grown up, reaped the benefits of stardom and fled the abuse this personality fostered (including getting punched out by country rocker Bonnie Raitt), and he'd like his real name back. Not too much to ask, is it? Maybe that should be directed to his new record company...
The album name Spike is a tribute to Spike Jones, the hyper comic/singer who livened up the airwaves in the forties achieving stardom with the help of "Der Fuehrer's Face," spraying rasberries in Hitler's general direction. In a similar style, Declan has chosen Maggie as his prime target, but hasn't cloaked his message in what were essentially childishly silly tunes. These songs should make you sit up and think, not laugh. People in England stopped laughing a long time age. A leader can build, save or destroy a country; Declan has clearly cast his vote for the latter, and has done it in a highly listenable manner.