He's wearing a crown on the cover of his new album, but Elvis Costello isn't singing of kingly matters these days.
One of the most talented singer-songwriters around today has created a jewel, as he continues to develop his singing. The post-punk generation's Frank Sinatra is here.
Except for one track, Elvis doesn't have the help of his band The Attractions. This fits him well, for without them and with the bare-boned instrumentation done by session people on the record, King Of America is pure Elvis.
It seems that this record is a new beginning for Elvis. The acoustical style of the album and his rejuvenated sense of disbelonging make him seem like a modern-day version of early Bob Dylan. Elvis has looked over his past few years as he tampered with stardom and many songs reflect it.
First of all, he has gone back to his original name. His original songs on the album are credited to Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus.
The album opens with "Brilliant Mistake," in which Elvis seems to have second thoughts about what he's been up to: "I was a fine idea at the time / Now I'm a brilliant mistake," he sings. But in the same song he shows his trademarked, insightful lyrics:
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs.
There's a bit of country, blues and rockabilly on the album, and he even throws in a mishmash of instruments such as marimba and French accordions.
He does two non-serious songs, one on game shows "Glitter Gulch" and hangovers "The Big Light":
The big light came through my window
and it opened up my eyelids
And it snapped them up like roller blinds
and told me things that I did
And to seemingly fit his mood, Elvis does a snarling remake of the Animals' classic, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
Elvis also does a political song about England and its American influence. He sings that England has been crying for years and years, "Now we don't speak any English, just American without tears."
The songs where Elvis' emotions come through most powerfully are on "Indoor Fireworks" and "Poisoned Rose," two emotional love songs.
But the most powerful song on the album and the one which the master is at his best is "I'll Wear it Proudly." He's had a lot thrown at him since he came onto the scene in the mid-1970s with My Aim Is True, and in this particular song someone is throwing more at him than he cares to deal with. What he tells her is for her and others. He says he may be wearing the crown of fools, but:
You can all die laughing
'Cause I'll wear it proudly
And he does. And one of the best albums in recent memory is proof.