"Here comes Mr Misery," Costello sings on "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" from Blood And Chocolate, "He's tearing out his hair again / He's crying over her again… He's contemplating murder again / He must be in love."
A wry chuckle at himself perhaps, another to his list of pseudonyms but also a razored tongue in cheek reminder that in 1986 Costello returned to doing precisely what he does best — being brilliantly miserable.
It was no mistake that he began the year by donning an undertaker's hat and adopting the middle name of Anthony St John Aloysius Hancock. He continued to present us with two whole galleries of poetic moaners.
The introduction to "Brilliant Mistake" from King Of America strikes the same opening chords as Dylan's one adult masterpiece Blood On The Tracks. Conscious or unconscious, the comparison holds strong; there's very little of the anger that once marked the young Costello, but what seems to have flooded in in its place is a skill at balancing sentiment with bitterness. It's the LP of a once angry young man coming to terms with his past, his ability and with the world.
In his year of inactivity, Costello further broadened his musical base and stepped back to take a look, finding he takes himself a little less seriously and sees others with a sense of sympathy. "Our Little Angel" with the "white dress she wears like a question mark" is a blurred figure painted with a sense of feeling, the old Costello would have shone the white light straight at her wrinkles; the ageing GI Brides of "American Without Tears" are rendered with weeping Celtic sentiment; while the heartbreak of "Indoor Fireworks" and "I'll Wear It Proudly" are tearful regret rather than spitting vitriol.
But if Costello has calmed down it hasn't affected his verbal sharpness, even if the usual virtuosity is replaced by an evocative economy: "Were your arms and legs wrapped round more than my memory tonight." The concerns of the latter are stretched out on Blood And Chocolate into what is possibly his finest song, "I Want You," the title first caressed, then squeezed then crushed to death. If the rest of the songs — "Battered Old Bird" excepted — are a return to denser lyrical games, it's a relief in comparison with this tendon-stripped nakedness.
In 1986 Costello gave us two collections of bruised and beautiful songs, black of humour, blue of mood. Here's to Mr Misery.