Florida Flambeau, April 3, 1989

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Schizophrenic Elvis better than none at all

Gary Fineout

People who aren't capable of withstanding a relationship without shredding their lover's ego to a bloody pulp are usually the same sort of fascist bullies that run governments and control the purse strings of the West.

That has basically been the number one axiom of Elvis Costello, dating back to the beginning of his career ("Less Than Zero" off Costello's debut was about Brit fascist leader Oswald Mosely).

So despite what recent write-ups on the album have said, it's not too unusual that Spike, Costello's first album in nearly three years, is rife with pointed barbs at Margaret Thatcher, capital punishment and Britian's colonial attitudes.

Costello has given his legion of fans another fine lyrical effort, but the schizophrenic nature of the music prevents the album from packing a solid punch.

That doesn't mean the album isn't replete with some great on-target songs but Spike, is nowhere near the great one-two combo of King of America and Blood and Chocolate from 1986. But it is better than some of Elvis' early '80s efforts such as Goodbye Cruel World.

Spike is Elvis' fourth album sans the members of the Attractions, Instead he uses some musicians he used on King of America, such as T. Bone Burnett, along with Allen Touissant and the Dirty. Dozen Brass Band, some Irish musicians and (gasp!' Paul McCartney.

McCartney, with the help of Burnett and Mitchell Froom, team up on "Veronica,- the erstwhile hit on the album and probably the catchiest thing Elvis has done in a while (which makes sense since McCartney co-wrote it).

But of course, only Costello could have a such a cheerful sounding pop song turn out to be a paen to a lonely war widow: "Well it was only sixty-five years ago... a young man sailed on a ship in the seal with a picture of Veronica / on the Empress of India / and as she closed her eyes upon the world and picked upon the bones of last week's news/ she spoke his name out loud again."

While McCartney does his bit on "Veronica" and the clangy-sounding "Pads, Paws, and Claws," a piece about the neglected wife of an alcoholic turned femme fatale, it is the New Orleans-influenced sounds of Touissant and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that shine brightest.

The album's best song is "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," a haunting admonition to an egocentric creative soul to beware of the trap of fame. Touissant backs Costello's plea with flowing piano work and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band contribute a mournful blues sound to the song.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is also featured on the instrumental "Stalin Malone" and they combine with traditional Irish musicians on the surreal sounding "Miss Macbeth."

Spike does have some clunkers, such as "Chewing Gum," and the hastily pieced together "Baby Plays Around." But that's balanced by excellent songs like "Let Him Dangle," the tale of bumbling criminal who gets hung, and "Tramp the Dirt Down."

Costello's best bit of bile is on "Tramp the Dirt Down." Elvis just doesn't want Thatcher dead. he wants to have the chance to watch the impoverished dance in glee on top of her grave: "I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap / 'cos when they finally put you in the ground/ they'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down."

Once again Costello flashes his songwriting razor and takes it straight to the jugular. Spike may not be Costello's best album but, like Tom Waits, a good Costello album won't let you down.


Florida Flambeau, April 3, 1989

Gary Fineout reviews Spike.


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1989-04-03 Florida Flambeau page 08.jpg
Page scan.


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