Who knows what Elvis Costello's been thinking? In the past half-dozen years, he's reinvented himself so many times we've never quite known who'd be coming to dinner. He was Declan MacManus. He was Napoleon Dynamite. When he was really confused, he was "The Little Hands of Concrete" or "The Emotional Toothpaste." For a time Elvis was casting off identities quicker than he could think them up.
Costello's career, of course, has always been one of casting things off. He's said goodbye (albeit briefly) to the Attractions and the Confederates, and to pop music a couple of times. He's said goodbye to the pointless spectacle of touring by giving concerts that were meant as parodies of concerts — game shows gone wrong, complete with a tottering Wheel of Fortune. And then, after the release of Blood and Chocolate, he just said goodbye.
This month, Elvis Costello will release Spike, his first studio album since September of 1986. The songs were recorded in London, Dublin, Hollywood, and New Orleans with some help from the local talent: Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hynde, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and musicians borrowed from Tom Waits, the Pogues, the Attractions, and the Confederates.
As a result this is as eclectic a record as Costello has made under any name. Spike swings from a hilarious pair of industrial-funk numbers to a polemic about capital punishment called "Let Him Dangle," which has to be the most riveting thing he's written. Above and beyond that, there's one brassy instrumental, one song called "Veronica," which sounds blissfully like something off Get Happy, and one song about God, who, it turns out, has a waterbed and likes Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Costello is still working the occasional alias into his liner notes, unfortunately. Ignore it. For now, Elvis Costello is Elvis Costello again.