After a two-year absence, we find Elvis the C on a new label, playing host to a hoard of well-known musicians and delivering very strong political and socially-inspired songs. It's a welcome return.
Spike is an odd, eclectic disc. The instrumentation is varied. to say The least: Paul McCartney (who co-wrote two songs) plays occasional bass; ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn makes an appearance, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band adds their distinct New Orleans jazz to several tracks. Marc Ribot and Michael Blair of Tom Waits' band are also present; and a group of traditional Irish musicians provide backing on two of the LP's best pieces.
Overall, the music seems disorienting at first. My suggestion: Check out the lyrics. For a dozen years now, Costello has been one of rock's most clever lyricists. On Spike, he doesn't rely on clever wordplay — he doesn't have to. The songs work on sheer conviction.
On "This Town," Costello attacks the idea of celebrity and status ("You're nobody 'til everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard") "Let Him Dangle" tells a grim tale of crime and punishment; "God's Comic," which undoubtedly inspired the album cover, finds God wondering "If I should have given the world to the monkeys." The McCartney collaborations, "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws and Claws" are predictably catchy but hardly lightweight.
"Tramp the Dirt Down" and "Any King's Shilling," however — both strong political statements — make much of the album pale in comparison "When England was the whore of the world / Margaret was her madam" he spouts in "Tramp..."
Warm, convincing, powerful at times, Spike may drive itself into the hearts of many.