Looking Across the Atlantic
David Manning | Astoria, NY United States | 01/21/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It was an indelible, and ironic, piece of bravura for Costello to at this time have named himself the King of anything. He had retired the Attractions, his ferocious band since '78, spent two years riding away from his only real musical failure-'84's dismal Goodbye Cruel World; and had even divorced his own chosen stage name- on this album all songs are credited to his Christian name of Declan MacManus. After all the photos of the bespectacled, knock-kneed weed, it actually seemed as if his given moniker were a psuedonym.As it turns out, Costello/MacManus was simply stripping away the artifice, from his life as well as his work. These are simply the most heart-rending, emotionally direct songs the man has ever released. He may have scaled similarly affecting heights in his career since, but he has never yet released an entire album with so much sweet soul, so much hard-earned redemption, or so much empathetic regard.Indoor Fireworks- there is always craft with Costello, and this amalgam of Cole Porter and Hank Williams is no different. The mistake some may make with him is to assume that craft is in place of genuine heart or beauty; the song proves such assumptions wrong. Even as Elvis weaves his way around the lovely matches and fire metaphor of romantic extinguishment, his voice moves away from it-everything still too hot and painful to the touch. The painful articulateness of the writing is such that the singer cannot fully bear its torch. He moves on through I'll Wear it Proudly, where neither the loved or lover is safe. Has he lost his love, is she in another man's arms, or does she still reside in his bed while the creeping shadows of suspicion and paranoia are making her harder and harder to see? It is impossible to completely tell, while Costello almost chokes with lines like "We are arms and legs wrapped 'round more than my memory tonight/ While the bell rang out and the air around turned blue from fright", and while it can't be completely explained, it is impossible to miss the full meaning the lyrics inveigh.In Suit of Lights, Elvis Costello makes the switch to Declan MacManus and back again all valid, as he sings a tale of a singer stripped, tarred and feathered, all by an audience that commits the act not so much out of vindictiveness as thick apathy. He is the man who must sing for his supper, at the mercy of the assembled lions. But what is he to do? It is his trade, whether fame or famine are its end result. Here, the relative ridiculousness of a stage name are made more than clear.It is not a perfect album- almost none are. There is a brace of uptempo rockabilly numbers, which is no bad thing in and of itself, but a song such as Lovable is a pretty forgettable throaway- especially in the considerable shadow of its bookended numbers, Brilliant Mistake and Our Little Angel: the former a wry and tuneful skewering of America's view of its own manifest destiny, the latter a torn but sincere defense of the innocence and naivete the native of such a young land may posses. And there are two covers, two too many. While Elvis may have wanted to sing The Animals' Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and J.B. Renoir's Eisenhower Blues for personal reason, it is hard to reconcile their inclusion when the Rykodisk showed such gems as Suffering Face and King of Confidence had been left of the shelves in their stead.At the time of this release, and since, much ballyhoo was made of Costello reaching into the commonly American idioms such as country, blues, and cajun for much of the musical architecture of this record. The album title, and his collaboration with Americana near-legend T-Bone Burnett, only served to reinforce this. These notices on the album weren't so much incorrect as they were missing the point. Elvis Costello didn't so much attempt homage to such forms as he did utilize them to show what had been left behind- all the little voices and ideas and tiny corners of the world that had been perhaps forgotten in the wake of such genres. Even as something like the blues and country may speak for the disenfranchised, Costello showed that they speak with more than one accent, oftentimes within the same song.The King and his subjects- in this world they are one and the same, even if only one can actually write the songs that say so. It is the most democratic monarchy in history."
Elvis' best piece of Americana
osapientia | Carson, CA | 03/03/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you like your Elvis toned downed and a little folkier, this is the perfect album to get. Elvis is an extremely prolific and ecclectic songwriter, so it's sometimes hard to know what you are getting, unless you get his classic 80's stuff. Everything else is spotty, though sometimes brilliant. This album is also a good way to get to know the Gram Parson's side of his influences and just how much country means to his music. Plus, it's always interesting to hear and Englishman doing country. Definitely, it's own twist to the genre."