Elvis Costello has almost come full circle on Blood And Chocolate (Imp Records X FIEND 80, imported through Inachord Music), returning to the raw passion of his early songs and reunited with his powerful former backing band, the Attractions.
"Uncomplicated," the opening song, sets the deliberate style of rough rock which producers Nick Lowe and Colin Fairley obviously see as Costello's greatest asset. The Attractions put out an appealingly murky blend of undulating Farsifa organ (Steve Nieve) and uncompromising rhythm from the Thomases (bassist Bruce and drummer Peter), behind Costello's jangling guitar and hoarse vocal.
Recrimination, a favorite Costello stance, is the theme of the tough "I Hope You're Happy Now." This song was co-written with the Pogues' Cait O'Riordan, the new Mrs McManus, although she is unlikely to be the object of desire on "I Want You," the album's most powerful track, a love letter that develops into a slow, smouldering expression of obsessive jealousy.
"Tokyo Storm Warning" is too close to Chuck Berry's "Memphis Tennessee" for comfort but "Home Is Where You Hang Your Head "(a neat twist to Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Hang My Hat, That's My Home") is a superb blend of country ballad and chugging rock with a long instrumental finale.
"Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?," a basic R&B riff, opens Side Two, followed by three excellent songs in a row: the classic, country-tinged arrangement of "Blue Chair" with its swelling vocal chorus; "Battered Old Bird," a dramatic, piano-backed exploration of a murderous tenement house; and "Crimes Of Paris" with Beatlesque vocal accompaniment from O'Riordan.
"Poor Napoleon," which also features O'Riordan, is positively misogynistic (with a touch of James Joyce's Ulysses) and "Next Time Round" closes with a triumphant, organ-powered rocker and a flippant treatment of a jilted lover.
Whatever he calls himself, Elvis Costello, Declan MacManus, or (as he does on the cover of this album) Napoleon Dynamite the man has regained his old vigor. Blood And Chocolate joins an impressive list of top albums released in the last month: a portent of the Christmas rush.