Miami News, October 23, 1986
Costello assumes another persona
This guy's got to be schizophrenic.
It reaches its most ludicrous in the credits: "All songs written by MacManus except 'I Hope You're Happy Now' by Costello." And the singer-guitarist song credits? Napoleon Dynamite.
The good news is that the man with too many names is back with his longtime band The Attractions — Pete and Bruce Thomas and Steve Nieve.
Declan MacManus has been the premier poet of punk and post-punk rock for years. using the stage name Elvis Costello. He reverted to his given name for his preceding album, King of America. But for his latest LP, it's Napoleon Dynamite.
The new record is called Blood and Chocolate (FC 40518), which sounds like the dessert in a typical employees' cafeteria. It's a good record — this guy has never made a bad record — but it certainly won't be nominated as his best, even though it closely resembles what many consider his prime work, Imperial Bedroom.
Cowboy Nick Lowe is back in the saddle as producer (with Colin Fairley), and he's still full of tricks — a stray guitar line pops up at full volume, some of the hooks will scream in your dreams, dissonance abounds.
It's tough to pinpoint the problem here. but a major clue comes in "I Hope You're Happy Now." 'When what'shisname performed the song in concert, we couldn't wait to get a vinyl version. Now that we have it, we're not so happy. Live, the song was a powerhouse rock-out, on the record it's just another pop song no energy, no violence, no pain.
In fact, of the 11 songs here, only two are keepers. What'shisname sounds committed as he smoothly delivers "Crimes of Paris," with Pogue and Cait O'Riordan inserting a felonious vocal hook. This cut is as infectious and melodic as any previous MacManus-Costello-Dynamite song.
One of its strengths is the car for detail: "She hit him with that paper-weight Eiffel Tower" and, in the chorus, "You're not the girl next-door or a girl from France / Or the cigarette-girl in the sizzle hot-pants."
The other prime cut is the rocking "Tokyo Storm Warning," co-written by O'Riordan. The song sounds like a slowed-down "19th Nervous Breakdown" hut with better lyrics than the Stones ever wrote:
Japanese God-Jesus robots telling teenage fortunes
Then there's the rest of the LP. The record begins with "Uncomplicated," the title of which describes the cut's structure. It's a thumping wall of crunch with silly lyrics, barely a song.
What'shisname waxes evocative in "I Want You," backed with Lowe's acoustic guitar. As much as we enjoy hearing this guy sing ballads from the gut, this one just doesn't make the cut. It's almost painful to listen to, but for the wrong reason.
"Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?" is a "Deportees Club"-style rave-up that should have been a B-side. "Battered Old Bird" isn't everything that "Shabby Doll" was. "Poor Napoleon" conquers with its opening line ("You can take all the truthful things you've said to me / And put them on the head of a pin") but goes nowhere from there.
What'shisname's fans will certainly relish Blood & Chocolate. But compared to his other work, and rock music in general, it's about as enjoyable as eating in the employees' cafeteria. Strictly for the starving.
The Miami News, October 23, 1986