It's a bit uneven. It's net nearly the jet-blast of guitars and well-honed cynicism that marked some of Elvis' best work. But King of America is the best in a long time from one of the top songwriters and wordsmiths to emerge from the 1970s English punk scene.
And it has a ringing note of finality — sounding the end of futile love, the finish of flirtation with BIG TIME success, the end of the Attractions who backed Elvis so faithfully for so long, and, In fact, the end of Elvis himself.
Costello has legally changed his name back to Declan Patrick MacManus, and added a second middle name. Aloysius. The name Elvis Costello is not displayed on the jacket, except for small type on the spine. The songwriting credits go to MacManus. The backing band consists of a varying group of sterling session players and other musical notables. Mitchell Froom, the (over)producer of the Del Fuegos, appears on keyboards.
James Burton contributes some downhome dobro and guitar work. T-Burnett, the son of Johnny Burnett and co-producer of this LP. also contributes his guitar expertise. David Hidalgo. of Los Lobos, adds a vocal harmony. Even Ray Brown, the longtime Jazz master, showed up to take a bass part. The Attractions appear In the old line up on one song. "Suit of Lights," and it contains an obscenity we can't print and the radio can't play. Therefore, don't expect the song to zoom to the top of the charts.
The LP doesn't suffer for the loss of Elvis' old band, however. (I'11 call him Elvis. at least for this review.)
"Brilliant Mistake" has a proud, forthright melody for a story of disillusionment and loss. He chronicles his grab for commercial success, and his relinquishing of that goal.
He thought he was the King of America
But it was just a boulevard of broken dreams.
And he tells us "I was a fine idea at the time. Now I'm just a brilliant mistake."
Elvis. the spurned and broken-hearted love. appears in "Our Little Angel," and a number of other songs. Once bitten, twice shy. I suppose, but really now. he shouldn't be so bitter. It does take two to tango, and to end the dance.
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" seems like an obvious plea on the part of the man who finds himself going through some changes and making some mistakes (like his last couple of LPs).
I'm just a man whose intentions are good.
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.
"Glitter Gulch" casts the muse of music as "Madam X painted in a shocking pink spangled dress." The storyteller is seduced into a land of hungry vultures and dollar signs. It wasn't pretty.
"Poison Rose" is another tale of ill-fated love. But the setting is sparse — club jazz trio with a crooner belting out ballads between sips of scotch and soda.
The big question is, what next? Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus is going to be a tight squeeze on a record label, and it'll gum up the slick album cover graphics, too. Still, if anybody could pull it off, it's Elvis. At least he didn't call himself Elvis Costello MacManus or something dumb like that.