University Of Delaware Review, February 24, 1989
Elvis reigns: Costello drives it home
Rock and roll has grown up. And Elvis Costello with his latest release, Spike, isn't playing musical sticky kid's stuff anymore. His newfound maturity isn't just an adult form of album marketing, this is grown up music.
Costello, known for his intricate lyrics and somewhat simple music, has finally brought his musical compositions up to the level of his lyrics.
Yet in this transition, something was lost. The simplicity and rawness of what rock and roll has been, is gone from this album. It is instead perfectly crafted both lyrically and musically.
No simple power chord, heavy metal raunch here for Costello. Instead, Spike is full of experimentation that ranges from the big band sound to 1920s crooning jazz to the '60s funkadelia.
Spike delves into different sounds and styles rarely ventured by today's pop artists. In some ways, this could be the album's downfall, since diversity can often lead to complications.
Side one's "Veronica" (currently receiving plenty of air play) is a fairly simple, sort of loud track set to a good quick beat. Perfect for the two-and-a-half minute format of Top 40 radio.
The rest of the first side ranges from the slow-paced ballads "Deep Dark Mirror" and "Let Him Dangle," to the funkadelic "Chewing Gum," and even a 1920s rollicking beer joint song, "God's Comic."
The only real disappointment on the first side, aside from Costello's concession to the Top 40 market, is "Let Him Dangle," which uncannily calls to mind Costello's better-known, old hit "Watching the Detectives."
They say your career is in trouble when you start stealing your own material. Hopefully Costello momentarily forgot how "Detectives" sounded, since the rest of Spike seems to say his career is doing just fine.
Side two kicks off sounding like it came right off a Tommy Dorsey big band album.
Kudos to Costello for digging up The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Gregory Davis, on lead trumpet. They prove that a horn section, on a modern album, doesn't have to be a reggae horn section (see UB40) or a Miami Sound Machine sound-alike.
Another track off the second side, "Pads, Paws and Claws," demonstrates Costello's growing ability to arrange music which matches his lyrical ideas. Costello berates a woman that is a "feline tormentor, not any vaudville wife," and uses a blues-y guitar that scratches as much as the real thing.
The rest of the tracks on side two are mostly love ballads, but that is not such a bad aspect considering the quality with which Costello has crafted these gems.
The complexity of this album guarantees that Costello need not worry about being overrun by screaming 13-year-old girls. Nor does he really have to worry about doing any serious mainstream radio spots.
But he surely will gain the respect of those who like a little depth to their rock and roll.
The Review, February 24, 1989