Here's a quiz for you Costello fans: if the hook goes "And I hope you're happy now," what's the line immediately before it? Why, "I never loved you anyhow," of course. Just another wizard jape from ol' little-hands-of-concrete's speedy follow-up to the fabulous King Of America.
Blood And Chocolate is full of wizard japes. "When you're over me, there's no one above you," Costello deadpans. Elsewhere, he sings: "All the words of love seem cold and crass, when you're tough and transparent as armored glass." It's just more sharp irreverence from the man who coined: "You lack lust, you're so lackluster."
But this is Costello so, natch, sometimes he's got more on his mind than "love," and, natch, sometimes it only seems as though he's got more on his mind. On "Tokyo Storm Warning," he sings: "Japanese god-Jesus robots telling teenage fortunes, for all we know and all we care they might as well be Martians." Nice thought, and I appreciate the hands across the Orient sentiment, but it's a bit obscure. And on one of the LP's highlights, "Battered Old Bird," the lyric congeals into the last words I ever wanna hear about drug abuse: "There's a place where time stands still, if you keep taking these little pink pills."
If you prefer, this is business as usual. And I usually enjoy Costello's business. So why is Blood And Chocolate a trifle disappointing?
Well, you've got to view the LP within the context of his career. Infinitely superior to Punch The Clock and the dreadful Goodbye Cruel World, I'd be calling B&C a return to grace if King Of America hadn't fallen in the middle. With its Grievious Angel inspired narrative, King was Costello's risky modern-folk/rock/pop masterpiece — and it woke him out of a slumber. Blood And Chocolate feels like a holding action.
The differences between the two albums lead to a direct comparison between their two respective centerpieces, "Sleep Of The Just" and "I Want You." Both deal with terror and sexual disharmony, but the former is quietly chilling — a stunning artistic statement while the latter is so smarty-pants with its "T.B. Sheets" nod and gutsy Dylan-derived title (Dylan's song cuts it to ribbons), Costello barely manages not to fall flat on his face. And he would if the song didn't tap so suddenly and so well into our fears.
Soundwise, B&C is an under-produced Imperial Bedroom, mixed with the sort of brawny rock 'n' roll the Attractions haven't managed to pull off since This Year's Model. I've always found the Attractions a thoroughly competent back-up band, and while "Blue Chair" could've used the Confederates (Cos's hired hands on King Of America), nobody could've improved on their "Tokyo Storm Warning." Costello himself will never have a great voice, but he's become a great singer, and every song here rings with conviction. And his guitar break on "Tokyo Storm Warning," with its zingy Revolver-era Harrison steals, is solid as, ahem, concrete.
Down to specifics: I'll give Blood And Chocolate the entire first side and half of the second. Also, "I Hope You're Happy Now" is my very fave song in the world today, and I want to listen to it forever.
All of which, I hope, saves me from telling you what Blood And Chocolate means. I have ideas, but they're personal, probably aren't in sych with yours or Costello's, and are therefore entirely irrelevant. He isn't godhead and I'm not waiting for the Word. In passing, I will note that if you've just broken up with your girlfriend buy this LP and steal his best put-down lines in ages. I'll also note that he's as relentlessly pessimistic as ever one of his most endearing treats which is a relief after a year of teeth-rotting optimism.
So I like Blood And Chocolate a lot. Even love it. A coupla years ago, I thought Costello was not pining but passed on. His twelfth LP finds him the only member of the class of '77 (don't give me David Byrne, I've heard True Stories) with any brain cells left.