If you put all the characters on Elvis Costello's new album Spike in one room, you'd probably have a riot on your hands. At the very least, you'd have a roomful of weird people.
You'd have the disillusioned entertainer of "This Town"; Bentley and Craig, the two convicted murderers from "Let Him Dangle"; Veronica, a senile old lady; and a dead priest, now working as God's court jester in "God's Comic." (Not to mention a God who wonders if he "should have given the world to the monkeys.")
The room would also contain a mail-order bride and her new husband; a husband who knows his wife is cheating on him; Miss MacBeth, an old witch who terrorizes little kids in a neighborhood; a British soldier questioning his duty in Ireland; and a little boy whose father is leaving.
If you added in all the musicians who helped out on the album, including Paul McCartney, Chrissy Hynde, Roger McGuinn, and T-Bone Burnett, you'd have a really noisy room.
So if this United Nations of a cast doesn't already clue you in to this, Spike is an incredible demonstration of Elvis's diversity. His now classic early work was straight ahead rock and roll, but Spike combines musical styles as diverse as Irish folk music, torch songs, swing/jazz, and plain old classic rock and pop.
"Veronica," the single off the album, is a good starting place for the next volume of the popular Elvis Costello's Greatest Hits. A solid, driving pop song, co-written and performed with McCartney, this song sports a great melodic line and tight harmonies. Other notable songs include "This Town," another great song in the more pop vein; "Pads, Paws, and Claws," a pseudo-rockabilly workout; and the instrumental "Stalin Malone."
With Spike, Elvis Costello renews his artistic license and matures into all the promise that his early work hinted at. It is a cohesive, ambitious and mature work that ranks with the best he's ever done.