Elvis Costello is a master who never stops learning. Since he first emerged out of the late-seventies punk-wave, Costello has evolved into a multi-talented artist — never staying within the boundaries of any particular style, always looking for other genres to conquer. After a three year respite, Elvis Costello returns with Spike and his musical explorations continue.
On Spike, Costello breaks traditions by using them. Icons Paul McCartney and ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn join him for the pop-tracks, "...This Town..." and the single "Veronica." McCartney's predictable bass lines and McGuinn's 12-string guitar fortify the toe-tapping texture of each tune they play on. Costello turns to a more soulful blues mode on "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" and "Chewing Gum." On these cuts, Costello's gang of horns, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, demonstrate unlimited versatility. They cop styles that recall everything from a Bourbon Street tavern to a dusty Blood, Sweat and Tears single. On the softer tracks, Irish folk artists, The Chieftains, add an eerie authenticity to Costello's words, depicting the political strife in Northern Ireland.
While there seems to be plenty of room for collaboration in his musical efforts, Costello's lyrical ventures remain entirely his own. For Spike, Costello has sharpened his eloquent wit to a point that cuts more directly and deeply than any of his previous efforts. On "Tramp the Dirt Down," he calls Margaret Thatcher the madam that stood by as England was the whore to the world. Her neglect in remedying the conflict between England and Northern Ireland makes him look forward to the day that he can pack the dirt over her grave. "Let Him Dangle" ventilates his opposition to the death penalty. His disgust with those who see "society's murder" as justice being served is a frighteningly timely commentary, as Ted Bundy was executed days before the album's release. Costello clearly has resurrected the lost art of expressing political and social discontent.
On the few tracks where the lyrics fall short of being gripping, Costello's voice carries them the rest of the way. Overshadowed by his songwriting talent, Costello's vocal versatility is usually unacknowledged. He parachutes down the refrain of "...This Town..." with melodic finesse. His voice hauntingly personifies his indignant dissension on the political ballads. Meanwhile on the heart-string pullers, "Satellite," a duet with Chrissie Hynde, and "Baby Plays Around," Costello tenderly releases the hopeless romantic from his usually cynical persona. "Miss Macbeth" and "Coal-Train Robberies" are two hard-rockers which prove that Elvis Costello still possesses the same grit that gave rise to "Clubland" and "Watching the Detectives."
Spike marks a triumphant and long-awaited return to the studio for Elvis Costello. The integration of his persona with his experimentation results in a successful comeback.