On the back cover of Elvis Costello's latest album, Blood and Chocolate, the caption under his picture identifies him as "Napoleon Dynamite" — Costello's alterego who acts as master of ceremonies on his current concert tour. Further, all but one of the songs on this album are credited to Declan McManus, Costello's given name, as were all the originals on his previous album. Despite the increasing fragmentation of Costello's public persona, this LP can be seen as a partial synthesis of the diverse musical styles he has adopted.
Nick Lowe, who produced several of Costello's earlier albums, has been reinstated on Blood and Chocolate. Not coincidentally, a number of songs recall the snappy pop-rock of Get Happy! — most notably "Blue Chair," "Next Time Round," and "I Hope You're Happy Now" (credited to Costello rather than McManus). "Tokyo Storm Warning" has the melodic quirkiness, just this side of dissonance, that characterized Taking Liberties and much of Trust. When he released Imperial Bedroom, Costello expressed the desire to hear Frank Sinatra do his songs; "Poor Napoleon" and the wonderfully titled "Home is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" hearken back, in structure if not in orchestration, to that album's lush pop — as does the crooned chorus of the lovely "Crimes in Paris." In contrast, "Battered Old Bird" and the bitterly plaintive "I Want You" are as instrumentally sparse as anything on Costello's last album, King of America.
As Costello consolidates his musical accomplishments, his lyrics remain as intelligent as ever: from clever wordplay — "When you're over me / there's no-one above you" to incisive observation — "he's contemplating murder again / he must be in love." This is a top-notch album by today's brightest, most creative pop musician — Blood and Chocolate, both sustaining and sweet.