The twin prophets of Doom and Gloom are back!
Following the marvellous King Of America album, Declan Patrick Aloysius McManus / Elvis Costello / Napoleon Dynamite (?!?) has burned out another fine album from his prolific production-line. The main difference on the new LP is the return of The Attractions. Having been "ditched" for one LP they storm through this one in a manner which suggests "OK Columbia, let's see you drop us again!"
Interestingly, Richard Thompson, on Daring Adventures, is backed not by the usual band of Gregson/Collister/Conway/McFarlane, but the same musicians who backed Costello on King Of America. Mitchell Froom, who also produces, plays Hammond Organ, Jerry Scheff and Jim Keltner or Mickey Curry are the rhythm section. John Kirkpatrick, the accordion virtuoso who stole the show at the Town Pump in September, makes one or two cameo appearances, and Gregson & Collister do backing vocals, but otherwise it's a new line-up for Thommo. Having said that, there is no doubt at all that it works, and it still sound distinctly Thompsonian. The only flaw in the production is the relegation of the accordion to a minor supporting role, when this appears to be the "in" instrument these days.
Thommo's album has plenty of variety with dark imagery, manic sounds and interjections of humour. The opening tracks "Bone Through Her Nose" and "Valerie" provide an amusing start to the LP:
She's got everything a girl might need
She's a tribal animal yes indeed
But she hasn't got a bone through her nose
Don't be misled by this. "Missie" hints at the depression to follow:
And if you never liked pulling teeth
Then why did you tie me in the dentist's chair!
"Dead Man's Handle" strongly resembles "Wall Of Death" from his Shoot Out The Lights LP, and is therefore a stand-out. "Long Dead Love" features an Animals-like intro and is a stirring dirge which was one of the highlights of the concerts here.
On the last LP the evocative, chilling number was "Ghosts In The Wind." This time it's "Lover's Lane" where deception is the rule.
"Nearly In Love" should be the next single, although this might create the dangerous possibility of massive popularity. "Jennie" is the bitter tale of a spurned lover tying to come to terms with his rejection. A stunning song, it fits in well with the main theme of Elvis' LP too.
The final two songs represent some of Thompson's finest writing to date. He performed them back-to-back on stage both nights and they do go well together. "Simple Again" tells of a soldier meeting a carefree, innocent girl in a war-torn landscape and yearning for her ability to ignore the terror around her.
Finally, "Al Bowlly's In Heaven" continues the theme as a crippled veteran returns home to find that all the glamour of the uniform has faded Al Bowlly, his hero (a British jazz singer killed in an Air Raid in 1940) has passed away, his mobility has gone, and so has all hope of finding a home, a job, a girl. This could just as easily be a song for the returning veterans of a futile war in the South Atlantic, South East Asia, Central America, you name it. It is probably the finest song on the LP and is presented in a simple, flowing, jazzy style, giving full rein to Thommo's deep, mournful voice.
In recent interviews Elvis Costello has referred to his past LPs, often somewhat disdainfully. Here he gives us a quick resume of his early career with songs like "Uncomplicated" returning to the hard vocal style of "Miracle Man," and "Tokyo Storm Warning" sounding like a cross between his Armed Forces LP and Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, "Blue Chair" and "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" are vintage Costello, replete with grammatical tricks and vivid imagery:
You tore him out and screwed him up
Like a bad page in a naughty picture book.
The outstanding cut is "I Want You," the most disturbing song I've heard in ages. It begins as a trite little love song and develops into an incredibly impassioned, bitter, even sinister stream of reminiscence and accusation. Listen to this one alone on a dark night, with just a bottle of Scotch for company if you dare!
Another stirring track is "Battered Old Bird" with the depressing mood accentuated by dual Harmoniums. He's joined by The Pogues' lovable bass player, Cait O'Riordan, his fiancee, on "Crimes Of Paris" where she sings great harmony, and on "Poor Napoleon," which is all she says on that track.
It seems redundant to say that this is an excellent album from the man. They have all been superb and this stands up as one of the darkest and most depressing of the lot.
If Costello and Thompson keep this up their next LPs could hasten the end of civilizations as we know it!