Elvis Costello is dead. Long Live The King, Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus. He's changed his name back by deed poll to the one his parents gave him. At the registrar's office or whatever it was, he decided on the spur of the moment to add "Aloysius", "because I like it," he told me.
It was the middle name of a man he greatly admires, the late comedian Tony Hancock. "I didn't even know how to spell it!" There's no mention of Elvis on his new LP King of America (F Beat Records). Instead, it's credited to "The Costello Show featuring The Attractions and Confederates," while his acoustic guitar playing — and on one song, mandolins — is attributed to "The Little Hands of Concrete". Strange chap. Or is he? No, actually.
This is the best Elvis / Declan LP from Britain's finest songwriter for ages. Start again. This is the best LP for ages. Period. It's brilliant.
For years Declan has felt that the name thought up by his manager Jake Riviera (who's real name is Andrew Jakeman, natch) was "a bit of an albatross." And yet, poetically, here we have our ex-Elvis backed by musicians from The TCB Band — Elvis Presley's old team. "It was a bit strange at first for those guys to call me 'Elvis', this young limey upstart," he laughs.
What's easily overlooked is that Declan is a man brimful of humour. For too long he's been miscast in the mould of angst-ridden, uptight, over-wordy clever-dick. This is the bloke whose ansaphone — in the most odd voice — informs callers that they've just rung The Bulgarian Embassy.
This is the man who last Tuesday was on television acting in The Bullshitters — the piss-take of the oh-so-butch we're-the-law-we'll-beat-you-up series The Professionals — playing the egotistical vacuous role that the credits titled "Stone Deaf A 'n' R Man." This is the chap who has a small part in the film No Surrender — written by Alan Bleasdale who did the brilliant Boys From The Blackstuff — playing the magician Rosco with a rabbit on his head.
Declan is "a very, very happy man. I'm very much in love and I'll tell anyone." The cause of his joy is Cait O'Riordan, the bass-player in The Pogues — who he produces — and on King of America they share writing credits on the song "Loveable": "You're so loveable, the toast of the town and the talk of the bedroom".
The rest of the 15 songs are by Declan, apart from his version of bluesman JB Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues" — which features jazzman Oscar Peterson's string bassist Ray Brown — and the LP's debut single "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" which, in the context of the album, is the weakest cut.
Production is by Declan's chum T-Bone Burnett, with whom he toured and recorded last year under the nom de disque, The Coward Brothers. Throughout, they've gone for a live situation, at most attempting four takes of any song.
The result is a marvellous vitality, bereft of clinical overdubbing. Noting that none of the songs have the severe viciousness which he's sometimes adopted in, the past, Declan, told this listener "As you know, T-Bone's a born-again Christian. He never laid that on me, but what he did do was talk about what he calls 'Generosity'. It shows, doesn't it?" Yes.
There are digs, of course, like on "Sleep Of The Just" where last year's Queen of the Bellybutton Madonna is alluded to in the lines "or is it immaterial girl".
The lyrics throughout are great, and to paraphrase one of Declan's own lines — and unashamedly steal a description from the New Musical Express, God help 'em — they're not unlike a sparkling verbal chainsaw ripping through a fat American dictionary.
"Brilliant Mistake" is a swipe at one of the worst aspects of Americanism: "She said she was working for the ABC News. It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use." "The Big Light," with The TCB Band guitarist James Burton, bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Ronnie Tutt, sounding like they did backing Presley, rockin' — is the best guilt-ridden drinking song since Nick Lowe's "What Did I Do Last Night (Who have I got to apologise to)?"
"America Without Tears" is about World War II GI brides, with perfect two-step accordion from Jo-el Sonnier. Throughout, the musicianship is sublime, be it drumming contributions from Jim Kiltner or Earl Palmer — who's played with Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran et al — to harmony vocals by Los Lobos singer David Hidalgo on "Loveable." The sparse, acoustically-orientated sound embracing country, r'n'b and rock 'n' roll is faultless.
And yet, with all these great American players, perhaps the key song is the one that features Declan's more usual British accomplices, The Attractions ("When people ask me if we're breaking up, I tell 'em I'm recording a new album with them this week," says Declan. It's true, too).
The song is called "Suit of Lights" and is about laying Elvis Costello to rest and the re-birth of Declan MacManus: "While Nat King Cole sings 'Welcome To My World' you request some song you hate you sentimental fool, and it's the force of habit" the lyrics begin, continuing "And I thought I heard 'The Working Man's Blues'. He went out to work that night and wasted his breath. Outside there was a public execution. Inside he died a thousand deaths. And they pulled him out of the cold cold ground. And they put him in a suit of lights ..."
Shine on, Declan.
King of America is essential listening, the vinyl solution. We all can stand the reign.