The country and western style which Elvis began courting with on Almost Blue has finally congealed into a style distinctively his own. King of America is a strange album in that it is country music gone awry.
The album's music itself preserves the country flavor well. In fact, many of the songs feature the core of Elvis Presley's band — James Burton, Jerry Scheff, and Ron Tutt. The vocals, too, sound authentic due to Elvis' naturally nasal twang. One would expect lyrics to be passionate and direct if they too were authentically country. Passion… maybe, but directness has never been Elvis' strong point, and on King of America he maintains his staggering ratio of metaphors per stanza.
By the way, King of America is going to be the last Elvis Costello album, at least by that name. Elvis is reverting to his original name — Declan Patrick MacManus. The album's first song, "Brilliant Mistake," seems to be an explanation for the change in names. Of his rock-star persona "Elvis," he sings, "He was a fine idea at the time / Now he's a brilliant mistake… / He thought he was the King of America, / But it was just a boulevard of broken dreams." So Elvis is through with the glitzy world of rock and roll and we can all now refer to him as… Declan Patrick?
One of the album's best songs, "Indoor Fireworks," deals with a perennial topic for Elvis - domestic strife. It's a catchy tune but what really makes this song great is the way he grabs a metaphor and holds onto it all the way through, with the chorus: "Indoor fireworks / Can still burn your fingers… / They're not so spectacular / They don't burn up in the sky / But they can dazzle or delight / Or bring a tear/ When the smoke gets in your eyes." At the song's end, when the marriage falls apart, Elvis adds, "I'll build a bonfire of my dreams/ And burn a broken effigy of me and you." This is great wordsmanship from a man who seems to just now be getting a grasp on his vast songwriting abilities.
All of this is not to say that Elvis has entirely forsaken rock and roll. Luckily for those of us who know and loved him when he was trying to live up to the name Elvis, he has thrown in the old standard "Don't let me be Misunderstood" as well as "Eisenhower Blues." Both of these tunes rock, but the latter is far superior because it features a patented Elvis screech, the like of which has not been heard since "Man Out of Time" on Imperial Bedroom.
Don't be scared off by the new country approach. Listen to this album many times and you'll love it. But don't trust me, Trust Declan.