Gone from this year's model Elvis Costello album are The Attractions (except for one track) and a certain degree of the lyrical obtuseness which has been his stock in trade.
What we find instead is firstly a line-up of talented musicians drawn from a variety of musical genres, with Ray Brown and Earl Palmer, for example, being renowned jazz men, as well as Mitchell Froom, probably best known for his production of the redoubtable Del Fuegos. What is most obviously present and in order is a new-found confidence following the uncertainty of the sorely strained Goodbye Cruel World, and the refreshingly direct approach that again highlights the songwriting prowess of the past decade's most consistently brilliant artists.
The moods and emotions are as compulsive as they are mixed. "Lovable" is as bright and optimistic a celebration of love as its upbeat rockabilly rhythm while "Little Calluses" has a ballad setting as stark as the plight of the British youth of which it seems to speak. Costello's role, as always, is that of sensory sponge of every little thing that's happening around him and drawing up a chronicle with seemingly equal portions of passionate understanding and disaffection. The difference on King of America is that he seems more willing than ever to share those feelings with his audience.
"Indoor Fireworks" speaks in painfully blunt terms of a breakdown of his own marriage: "It's time to tell the truth / these things must be faced / my fuse is burning out and that powder's gone to waste."
"I'll Wear It Proudly" frankly admits he can wear with pride the mantle of a fool in love. He hasn't lost all his old vitriol, however, with "American Without Tears," a bitter rejection of American cultural imperialism and "Glitter Gulch," a rueful look at the vacuous morass of the Hollywood fame machine.
This is easily the best Elvis Costello album since the sublime Imperial Bedroom. The range and skill of his compatriots means Costello can take on folk, country, jazz, rockabilly, soul and 80s pop and with almost arrogant ease sound utterly convincing in each. The directness in his material does not mean he has descended to crass simplifications but rather he seems to have declared a truce in his war with words that so often made his songs so deliciously obscure. King of America proves yet again that Elvis IS king.