The sleeve of Elvis Costello's latest album, Spike, relegates his performance credit to the tiny letters of its spine, and bears a more prominent inscription proclaiming his new alter-ego as "the beloved entertainer."
Judging by his performance at the London Palladium last week, it is a moniker he obviously relishes. Cracking jokes, telling stories and obliging audience requests, Costello was a revelation compared to the "sneer on legs" persona he carried years beyond its punkish origins. And, accompanied only by his own guitar or piano, he served powerful notice that he is a social and political chronicler without peer in contemporary pop.
Much of Costello's lyrical strength derives from his observations: the handshake by which the hangman calculates Derek Bentley's weight in "Let Him Dangle," or the contrast between the lifestyle promised a mail-order bride in "Chewing Gum" and its dismal reality ("The nearest she comes to Dynasty / is a Chinese takeaway").
But then Elvis always was a skilled wordsmith; now he has developed the voice to go with it. Having progressively shed his nasal overtones, these days he even approximates a husky warmth on occasions, and his limited range, once a handicap, is now wielded as a weapon.
It was perhaps as well that he came equipped with the prop paraphernalia of a huge broken heart; two hours of any solo performance can be exacting let alone one so demanding. But the wisecracks and asides also dissipated the tension, as though we were being forced to stand back and simply admire the showmanship.
The moody melancholic blues of "God's Comic" were completely ruined when, half-way through, the word "monkeys" provided the cue for an impromptu burst of The Monkees' "Last Train To Clarksville." Time perhaps for Elvis to recognise the importance of every beloved entertainer's motto:. that less can sometimes mean more.