It's back to basics for The Costello Show. No longer shall Declan McManus be hiding behind the angry persona of Elvis Costello. On King of America, his 11th album, McManus/Costello has stripped his music down to bare bones, much as Bruce Springsteen did on his Nebraska album.
If it were up to McManus alone, the album would not contain a single reference to the Costello image. The temporary group title, The Costello Show, is being used to please his record company.
Those familiar with McManus' earlier music will note he has cast aside many of the nuances of pop, and retained the word play and innovative musical structures for which he has become known.
With the help of T-Bone Burnett's production, the influences of Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley come out strong and positive. On most of the best songs, "American Without Tears" and "The Big Light," McManus is backed by various musicians, including some of Presley's TCB band members.
McManus' long-time backup band, the Attractions, appears on only one of his more musically and lyrically difficult songs, "Suit of Lights." When the Attractions' keyboardist Steve Nieve combines efforts with Burnett's base playing on "Jack of All Parades," the album displays one of its greatest gems.
As with McManus' previous albums, there is an element of risk in the writing or production of many of the songs, as in "Chocolate Town," when he tries to push his voice past its limits. It is the successful risks he takes that make so many of the songs delightful.
Overall, The King of America is enjoyable and interesting. This album Is probably best compared to McManus' obscure albums, Almost Blue and Imperial Bedroom. Those emotionally packed records were produced with little concern for pop culture