After sounding like a hack on two consecutive releases, Elvis Costello owed the pop establishment a decent record.
In 1983, Costello's Imperial Bedroom was a tour-de-force. Employing a variety of fresh styles, it appeared the former new wave/punk rocker had come of age.
But then he dumped two disappointing albums on the world — the pale Punch the Clock and the ill-conceived Goodbye Cruel World. Suddenly, it appeared Costello was merely going through the motions, lacking the energy of all his his earlier records.
But in his latest, King of America, Costello has returned to his old form.
There's a difference between Imperial Bedroom and King of America. On the latter, the album was full of sparkles and lights, an abundance of decorous strokes. It was as if the painter couldn't leave the canvas alone, creating a series of highly ornate impressions.
On King of America, the artist creates a relaxed, unpretentious sound with simpler melodies and toned-down instrumentals that let the lyrics provide the color.
When Costello arrived on the music scene in the late 1970s, he was the angry young man with a whiny voice. He was the bespeckled punk who looked like a throwback from the 1950s. He complained a lot. He had an ugly distrust of women. He looked like a geek.
Costello has softened since then, though the anger is still there. But even when he's anti-social, he's somber, almost humble.
He covers a lot, of territory in King of America. There's working class folk, pop, rockabill and blues. His voice can go over smooth, or it can take a throaty turn, as it does in the cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
There's a kind of middle class sadness in "Indoor Fireworks," and the blues ballad, "Poisened Rose," would sound great in a smoke-filled night club.
It appears the punk rocker of the late 19706 has given us an easy listening classic in the 1980s.