Hmmm... Spike... How many dogs carry that name? Or for that matter, how many guys do? The title to Elvis Costello's latest release is as predictable as his music. That is, he's unpredictable.
But Elvis Costello has always been known as a progressive rocker in the tradition of jazz, pop and reggae. So why should America's only living Elvis give up his claim to fame?
Truth of the matter is, Costello has never had a large commercial audience. We would rather call it a silent majority. Anyhow, Spike is Elvis Costello's album and nobody else's.
What do I mean by that? Well, with the exception of "Veronica," this is the first album that I've ever heard that retained the major artist's sound, not the guest stars. Alongside Costello on a couple of the tunes is Paul McCartney, of Beatle/solo fame. Also appearing on Spike are Roger McGuinn, The Bullet Blue Brass band, and a host of others.
Take the guests off of the vinyl and you're still going to get the same sound: the Elvis Costello sound. The album ranges from the semi-pop, McCartneyesque "Veronica" to the jazz/rap/funk revolutions of "Chewing Gum." However, Costello is not a white rapper — he's just an artist that's got a lot to say.
Next, listen to "Stalin Malone," a jazz instrumental with read 'em lyrics as the albums liner notes. "Baby Plays Around," the "nightclub" song, adds to the diversity of the release. Suffice it to say, Elvis Costello won't let his music become somebody else's wallet. Why? "Because there's one, thing I know, I'd like to live long enough to savour, that's when they finally put you in the ground, I'll stamp on your grave and tramp the dirt down."
Costello's lyrics indicate the man's social conscience, a blue collar heart. Spike's lyrics engulf the extent of working class attitudes: positive, negative, depressive, naivete, sarcasm. "Satellite" talks about how TV satellites relay human lust directly to our homes. "God's Comic" tells the story of an unsuccessful comedian who makes it big after he dies. Now where have we heard that "Cinderella" story before? "Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead, and I'm going to meet my reward, I was scared, I was scared, I was scared, I was scared, he might never have heard God's comic." "Let Him Dangle" talks about a man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Costello says it all. Spike's music contains jazz, pop, reggae, charismatic harmonies, Buddy Holly vocals, conscientious lyrics, and a variety of instruments, from the glockenspiel to the organ. But to define his music would be to miss the point of his music. Costello is Costello and no one else, and how will he be remembered? "You'll read my story in history books, only they won't mention my name."