Oh, give me a home where Elvis Costello will roam and stab himself in the heart all day. Which is to say the Big E. is back in a big way — angry, bitter, desperate and eager to tell anyone else who's brave enough to listen.
Through 11 gut-wrenching rock and ballad offerings on his latest album — Blood & Chocolate — modern pop's most insightful and clever lyricist confuses pain (blood) and pleasure (chocolate) in lean arrangements that recall peak moments of his sensational 1978 LP, This Year's Model.
His ugly-is-beautiful voice snarls, rasps, whispers and cuts loose in emotionally jarring and unrestrained self-revelation. It venomously speaks of the human wreckage wrought by a bad romance gone worse in "I Hope You're Happy Now" ("I knew then what I know now / I never loved you anyhow"); of sophisticated despair in the pointedly hummable "Blue Chair;" and of the raw anxiety felt by a betrayed lover in the album's chilling highlight, "I Want You:" "It's knowing that he knows you now after only guessing." Bam! Right between the eyes.
Also worthy of praise are the Attractions, Costello's three-piece backup band, which played little on King of America, an album released earlier this year by the King. The Attractions unfortunately sound a bit reined in on most of Blood & Chocolate, but even the sparest instrumentation can't stop them from pumping life into the songs.
Producer Nick Lowe, whose unobtrusive technique helped Costello get his twisted pop messages across in the first place, is back, too, after being kissed off several records ago. Here's hoping everyone sticks together for the next one.