Declan MacManus has made peace with his better-known alter ego, Elvis Costello. And nowhere is this harmony more apparent than on his latest album, Spike. Costello hasn't gone soft. The songs ring with razor-sharp insight. And musically, the album is his best in years, interweaving the finest threads from his past masterpieces — the social conscience of Armed Forces, the emotional intensity of This Year's Model, and the musical intricacy of Imperial Bedroom. Spike, however, lacks the unbridled hostility that has both fueled and overwhelmed Costello's career for the past decade. Instead, the album is energized by a comic touch that is several shades lighter than Costello's traditional brand. At last, this mighty musician seems to be enjoying himself.
And with good reason. His three-year marriage to musician Cait O'Riordan is flourishing (the album is dedicated to her). He has embarked on a glowing new record deal with Warner Records, which Spike inaugurates. And his most recent creative partnership, with Paul McCartney, yielded 11 songs in one year, two of which — "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws and Claws," appear on Spike. Others will be unveiled on McCartney's upcoming album, due out later this year. "It was a workshop situation," Costello said recently, explaining their collaboration to the New York Times. "We would sit around with a couple of guitars, a piano, and a tape recorder and throw around ideas, improvising until we got a structure. Generally, if it sounds as thought wrote something, Paul wrote it, and if it sounds as though Paul wrote it, I did."
Finally, Costello seems to have recovered from the searing image problems that gripped him after a drunken incident in 1979. The public ultimately forgave Costello for his youthful indiscretions. And Imperial Bedroom, released in 1982, was critically heralded as one of the best albums of the year, and Costello's most sophisticated work to date. But Costello continued to feel haunted by his show-biz image, and in 1986, he went so far as to drop the name Elvis Costello to "divorce himself" from his reputation. He took the name back later that year. But the exceedingly bitter undercurrents on Blood & Chocolate released in late 1986, suggested lingering inner conflicts.
With Spike, all conflicts are resolved. Elvis Costello is back. And clearly, no one is happier than Declan himself.