USA Today, March 1986

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USA Today


Shades of Elvis Costello

John Milward

NEW YORK — Leave it to Elvis Costello to change his name back to his given Declan Patrick MacManus, just in time to plumb the roots of rock on King of America. "I was a fine idea at the time," sings the legendary British new waver on the LP's opening song "Now I'm a brilliant mistake."

"I didn't go out and make a statement like 'from henceforth I will not answer to that name,'" protests MacManus, 32, dressed for a rare round of interviews in bohemian black.

"The record company would be very annoyed with me if I tried to distance myself too much from the Elvis Costello name, because it's too much of a good trademark. It's just that now I'm legally me again."

Costello or MacManus, he is one of the most critically acclaimed rock artists of the past decade. A prolific, multistyle songwriter, his influence extends beyond his large cult audience; Linda Ronstadt, for one, has covered such Costello tunes as "Alison," and Costello has recorded in Nashville, including a duet of his own "Stranger in the House" with country legend George Jones.

MacManus called himself Elvis as a highly promotable punk-rock prank; on King, he plays with musicians who worked with Elvis Presley.

Personally, if not musically. he has sometimes acted the punk. In 1979, his reputation was tarnished by a widely reported drunken critique of Ray Charles. His marriage was an on-again, off-again affair (he has a 10-year-old son); with a divorce in its final stages, MacManus is engaged to Cait O'Riordan of the Irish group the Pogues.

King of America is a breakthrough LP for MacManus, and not just because of his new/old name: Working with a sympathetic co-producer (T Bone Burnett) and superb players, his songs span a potpourri of styles, including folk, pop, count!) and rockabilly. The unusually straightforward lyrics, deftly mixing the personal and the political, are among his most effective.

Yet it's no accident that King's first single is a cover of the Animals' classic "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

"I love stirring it up." MacManus says, "but I don't want people to overlook the quality and content of what's there because they've got a preconceived idea of who I am and what I do."

One misunderstanding MacManus is anxious to untangle is with his backing trio, the Attractions, reportedly miffed by their minimal participation on the LP. With no tour planned, MacManus is convening the group to begin recording his latest batch of tunes.

Elvis Costello used to say his inspirations were "guilt and revenge." Declan MacManus now explains that he likes "artists who frighten you, even if it's with a tender thing."

MacManus admits that he was seduced by the rock star role of Elvis. "I caught myself looking to see what I could get away with. I thought it was funny, and that people would see the joke, and then one day I woke up and thought 'Hang on, people just think I'm a mug like those other people that used to act like this.'

MacManus rates Elvis

Elvis Costello

"I've made one bad record in eight years," figures Declan MacManus, who ranks the new King of America a notch above his first two LPs.

"All the records were good for the moment they came out, although they didn't all last so long."

My Aim Is True: "The first one's sort of naive, and a lot of people like it. Like the new one, it's very open, except it was guileless because I didn't know enough."

"Once I had a band it was much easier. I really like This Year's Model still, and I like Get Happy, where I backed off my moment of pop stardom by appropriating musical styles (mostly R&B) to serve my purpose.

Almost Blue: "The country record was a break from songwriting and the cul-de-sac I'd worked myself into."

"I like Trust simply because big songs are told big, and small songs are told small."

"Imperial Bedroom is a very good record, except some of it's a bit too indulgent — it was like a painting I wouldn't leave alone.

"Punch the Clock was a good record in terms of execution; but there weren't many good songs on it."

"Goodbye Cruel World was completely ill-conceived from the start. There were good songs that didn't get told properly. Others were just plain bad songs."

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USA Today, March 1986 - exact date unknown

John Milward interviews Elvis Costello and reviews King Of America.


1986-03-00 USA Today clipping 01.jpg

Costello's crowning achievement

The Costello Show / King Of America

John Milward

This new LP not only ranks with the top three records of Costello's prolific career. but it also includes his very best vocals. At the end of "Our Little Angel," for instance, his voice is caught in the back of his throat, and the emotional effect is like bourbon to the belly. Costello and co-producer T Bone Burnett use largely acoustic instruments, including string bass and brushes and drums — exemplified by their riveting cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The subtle technique shines in styles from folk ("Indoor Fireworks") to rockabilly ("The Big Light") and rock ("Suit of Lights"). Costello is still prone to occasionally careless wordplay, but the balance between poetry and performance achieved on "Brilliant Mistake" is hardly an accident. It's the gift of an artist at the top of his craft.

Photo by Ebet Roberts.
1986-03-00 USA Today photo 01 er.jpg


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