Following the release of Blood and Chocolate, Elvis Costello has returned to the limelight with a collection of songs which feature a stark, foreboding sound.
Backed alternately by his crack band The Attractions and guitarist-songwriter extraordinaire Nick Lowe, Costello — or as he has deemed himself on this album — Napoleon Dynamite, sings impassioned songs of social criticism and lost love.
Abandoning the lush, orchestrated sound dominating previous albums, Costello has chosen to let his vocals carry the expressiveness and melody of his songs here.
As calculated as other efforts, Blood and Chocolate falls flat on several songs due to this vocal dependence. On songs such as "Battered Old Bird" and "Uncomplicated," his frail voice cannot carry the song alone.
Costello is similar to Bob Dylan in many ways. The songwriters share an incredible output of songwriting and an expressive but weak voice.
The one attribute the two do not share is the number of other singers that do versions of their songs. Many have covered Dylan songs, while reflexively few have done the same with Costello's efforts.
Costello, though, has proven to be the Dylan of the 1980s.
Through his cynicism, which has ebbed slightly in recent years, and his search for that real love that is supposed to happen but never really does, Costello will be seen years from now as chronicling this period through his lyrical and masterful arrangement of audio imagery.
On Blood and Chocolate he achieves this on only a few of the songs, primarily "Tokyo Storm Warning" and "I Want You," the two strongest numbers. "Warning," which sounds like "Memphis," a Chuck Berry tune, sports lyrical imagery of the old Costello.
"Japanese God-Jesus robots telling teenage fortunes / for all we know and all we care, they might as well be martians / they say gold paint on the palace gates, comes from the teeth of pensioners / they're so tired of shooting protest singers, that they hardly mention us / while fountains fill with second-hand perfume and sodden trading stamps / they'll hang the bullies and the louts that dampen down the day..."
In "I Want You," the sparse accompaniment works well to illustrate the pain of a love lost to another. His voice works wonderfully in this, capturing the desperate grasp of a relationship that has passed on forever.
The last two albums, King of America and Blood and Chocolate, show a re-emergence of Costello's grasp of both lyrical and musical visions that he has not coalesced since Imperial Bedroom.
Unfortunately, it seems as though Imperial Bedroom should logically follow these two albums rather than the reverse, Another listen to Bedroom may be th order for those looking for an appropriate chronology.