Elvis Costello has more than once professed a disdain for things America, yet often seems to aspire to nothing more than being one. At times he would have us believe he is merely a country-Western crooner or a soul-shouter trapped in an angry young Englishman's body.
That irony is hardly lost on Costello himself, as evidenced by the sly title of his new album "King of America" (Columbia), his first collection of original material to draw so thoroughly on indigenous American country, folk and blues.
There are strengths and drawbacks in his approach towards traditional material: He is too dry, too intellectual - maybe too English, if you will - to make you cry the way his Nashville idols might, but the subtle, dazzling wordplay he brings to the form is worth the trade-off.
The overly fussy pop arrangements of his last album "Goodbye Cruel World," have been replaced with a spare sound involving plenty of stand-up bass and Hammond organ and brushes and rim shots, with a little unobtrusive dobro or accordion here and there.
The traditional minimalism of the arrangements is enticing even when the sentiments are oblique and alienating. When Costello's coldest lyrics combine with the warmest of all musical styles, it is an interesting collision.
It is a Spocklike battle between rationality and emotion that provides the most arresting moments, and in this alternately brilliant and aggravating LP, the uneasy matching has become externalized in the merger of word and style as well.