The subtle, secret-message-style mention of Elvis Costello's given name (D.P.A. MacManus — what a marvelous moniker) on the song credits of his new album, Spike, is a typical example of the minimalist egotism that surrounds this man. Elvis Costello is a very unique, pervasive, and enduring bastion of modern rock. But don't be put off by his seemingly-impenetrable coyness. This veteran renaissance man of rock 'n' roll puts substance and firepower behind his new collection of consistently listenable and interesting tunes.
Pencil in a great big hole in your schedule before perusing Spike — it's almost sixty-five minutes long, jam-packed with tasty melodies and finger-snapping riffs that make Costello the Beloved Entertainer That Won't Go Away. Featuring a simply-smashing brass section, as well as subtle background assists by such perennial family favorites as Paul McCartney (playing bass on "...This Town..." and sharing writing credits with Costello on two tracks, including the infectious "Veronica") and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde (offering nice, unobtrusive backing vocals on the fairly generic ballad "Satellite"), it is certain that with this album, Costello has taken a musical road trip of sorts.
Spike is not representative of the basic-rock, garage-band Costello of the early eighties. This time out, the listener is treated to screaming muted trumpet, warbling accordion, sad violin, tuba, xylophone, and zippy, brush-beaten drums. Sideshow organ riffs and dreamy rhythm changes, such as those on the Sgt. Pepper-like "Miss Macbeth," lend a complexity to the music that is certain to challenge old fans and attract new ones. Through it all stands Costello's vocals, which distinctively stamp all of his work in a familiar, eminently likeable manner.
Costello was really thinking when he brought Spike to life: This is definitely not the guitar-banging, gut wrenching, seat-of-the-pants Costello who gave us "Pump it Up." But it isn't quite the contemplative, soulful chap who crooned "Everyday I Write the Book," either. Most importantly, this album is not the product of a "mainstream crossover" feared by fans of so many pillars of modern rock today.
Spike is a different breed of animal, centering upon piano-and-horn tunes similar to — but generally merrier than — those of Joe Jackson. It simply will not be destroyed or made prematurely stale by heavy rotation on MTV (not in this reality, anyhow). This is funky, jazzy, 3-dimensional stuff, and for that reason, it might not be palatable to the Costello purist. But D.P.A. MacManus — A.K.A. Elvis Costello — consistently engineers masterful lyrics and thoughtful arrangements no matter what tool he chooses to pick up. These songs are the work of a thinker and a craftsman, and they are certainly not to be missed.