How does he do it? Two albums in widely divergent styles, twenty-four new original songs in one year — Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, continues to astound and confound in the face of eroding sales figures. King of America, recorded live in the studio mostly with an all-star collection of Yankee sessionmen (including James Burton, who once played guitar for another Elvis), was Costello's attempt to showcase his writing in a country-blues-roots context. Indeed, the relaxed luster of the arrangements and the striking lucidity of the production (by Costello and T Bone Burnett) highlighted the narrative drive and lively wordplay of "Brilliant Mistake," "American Without Tears" and the hilarious game-show yarn "Glitter Gulch."
Blood & Chocolate marked Costello's reunion with both the Attractions and his original producer, Nick Lowe. The result was Elvis's most musically aggressive album since Armed Forces, opening with the martial slam of "Uncomplicated" and closing with the suicidal, iron-fisted Merseybeat of "Next Time Round." The stark, lustful "I Want You" is Costello's brooding inversion of John Lennon's heavy-metal valentine of the same name. "Tokyo Storm Warning," a bird's-eye view of universal absurdity co-written with his new missus, Cait O'Riordan, is Costello's own "Highway 61 Revisited."