Elvis Costello continues to chop to bits all the standards of creativity in the music business. Since he emerged as the pigeon-toed proto-punk in 1977, Costello has released 12 albums, lapsing only on the country cover record, Almost Blue. If other outings have been slightly uneven — e.g. last year's Goodbye Cruel World — they still eclipse most of the competition.
Blood and Chocolate, following the King of America, is Elvis' second monumental offering of the year. Once again he has returned to the Attractions and the production of Nick Lowe, and though it rocks much harder than King of America, it shares the latter's ambitious lyrical scope and dense texture.
Costello, a.k.a. Declan P. MacManus, a.k.a Napolcan Dynamite, is in peak form, and in that state, can outwit the best of them. Elvis fans will be glad to learn that certain songs here sound as if they could have been taken from Imperial Bedroom, Taking Liberties or even My Aim is True. Elvis and the Attractions are in furious voice with plenty to say. Lyrically, this year's model is cryin-your-beer, country-influenced and, like Imperial Bedroom, the songs are passionate vignettes overhead in bedrooms and kitchens. As the title suggests, there are both strangers in the house and tears before bedtime.
The characters act out choleric roles, ranging from break-neck, heartbreak rockers "I Hope You're Happy" and "Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind?" to "I Want You," which has to be one the most haunting songs ever written about jealousy. With a terse background, Costello is angry and way beyond blue, hypnotizing his lover with the words "I Want You" while flinging daggers at her affair. He sounds on the verge of murder when he sings, "I want to know the things you did that we did too / I want to hear he pleases you more than I do" and follows it with "You've had your fun don't get well no more."
As usual, Costello is up to his clever wordplay ("When you're over me / there's no one above you") Still, the lyrics come right to the bloody point; there's no tight-lipped British protocol here whatsoever. Blood and Chocolate can work on different levels. Take it as just a great rock 'n' roll record, or listen closely to the skeletons falling out of the closet.