Elvis Costello has been threatening for years to destruct his angry young British rocker persona. In 1981, he came close, devoting an entire album to cover versions of country and western songs. But that album, Almost Blue, was only a threat; Costello sounded at times as if he neither knew how nor wanted to approach this foreign ground.
On his latest effort, King of America, Costello finally acts on his threats. Not only has he devoted almost an entire album to sensitive balladeering, the songs are strong enough to hail an exciting new stage in Costello's moody career.
Lyrically, the singer — who reclaimed his given name, Declan McManus, after the release of this album — can still be the snide, rude and downright antogonistic punk he started as. But while he continues to offer hazy, brilliant lines and rhymes, he's at his best when he's at his simplest. The straightforward stories of "Indoor Fireworks" and "I'll Wear It Proudly" are some of most exquisite of his career, and like many of the LP's tracks, Costello's vocals carry these tunes with only the help of acoustic instruments.
King of America finds Costello experimenting with new styles. As a result, there are bits of refuse — like the aimless jazz piece "Eisenhower Blues" — among the gems. His few stabs at C & W are both hilarious and convincing in their sound, if not their lyrics. But they come off as little more than extended jokes next to the stark, unsettling ballads that make King of America such an irresistible album.