If you look closely at the cover of Elvis Costello's classic debut LP My Aim Is True, you'll notice "Elvis Is King Elvis Is King" all over the background. It was a punk move intended to shake up the disco ducks of the late 70s a little bit.
If you look closely at the cover of King of America, you'll notice that Elvis probably had a complexion problem as a teenager. You'll also notice that he is pictured as the King of America. This album is, in fact, brimming with references to America.
The album is dominated by a country feel — a musical genre pioneered here in the good or U.S.A. He sings about having the "Eisenhower Blues." In "Glitter Gulch" he sings about a gameshow where the contestants must humiliate themselves for money. I can't think of anything more American than a game show.
In "American Without Tears" Elvis seems to lament his own Americanization as he sings about an expatriate who realizes that he has without his knowledge lost touch with his original home.
Elvis, too, appears to have lost touch with his original home — rock and roll. The only song that could really be called rock and roll is the non-LP B-side "Brand New Hairdo."
Also, Elvis completed this album practically unaided by his faithful sidekicks, the Attractions. He chose instead to use a lot of proven sessionmen, including the legendary James Burton, who worked with the first Elvis. With Burton's help, Elvis includes a great deal of retro-rockability tunes, which smooth the transition away from rock and roll that he appears to be making.
Also smoothing this transition are the folk songs that are included. "Indoor Fireworks" (which was written by Elvis for Nick Lowe's last album) and "Little Palaces" both showcase Elvis' rasp over producer T-Bone Burnett's masterful sparse acoustic arrangement.
This album's major disappointment comes with Elvis' cover of the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The lyrics fit Elvis Costello's pose to a tee, but the execution queers the whole thing. His voice sounds like he has been sucking straight carbon monoxide for three or four hours before recording the track. Maybe he had a cold and had to sing it through a wall of phlegm and mucous. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound good. The young Elvis would have sped it up and screamed it at the top of this throat. This, unfortunately, is not the young Elvis.
King of America is a good album but only a passable Elvis Costello album. We've come to expect more from Elvis. Of course, a mediocre Elvis Costello album is always better that a great Journay album.