Blood & Chocolate
REVIEW BY: Phil Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/2010
Nineteen eighty-six was a busy year for one of the UK’s greatest New Wave singer-songwriters, Elvis Costello, with the release of both King Of America (an album made with Elvis Presley’s ‘70s backing band the TCB band) and Blood & Chocolate.
The album was the last for ten years with his classic backing group The Attractions (comprised by Steve Nieve, Bruce and Pete Thomas). It was produced by another New Wave star, Nick Lowe, and boasted with three personas for Costello: Declan MacManus as the songwriter and either Elvis or his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite on vocals. The strength of the album is Elvis Costello’s emotions, which always appear on the edge of anger, and the sharpness of his lyrics.
Opener “Uncomplicated” just pounds into your mind with Pete Thomas laying down a boom-boom beat while Elvis rails against disappointment in love, albeit with a very interesting girl: “I asked for water / You gave me rose wine / A horse that does arithmetic / And a dog that tells your fortune,” he laments.
“I Hope You’re Happy Now” again is a bitter swipe at lover who has jilted him, which sticks the knife in at the end with “I knew then what I know now / I never loved you anyhow.”
The most musically adventurous track is “Tokyo Storm Warning,” a nightmare vision of the future that actually led to a three issue comic book in 2003.
Stevie Nieve subtly squeaks and groans his organ through “Home Is Where You Hang Your Head,” which even so somehow still feels that is has a country influence to it.
The centerpiece of the whole album is “I Want You,” where Costello for 6 ½ minutes bullies, cajoles, pleads and begs an ex-lover to come back. It builds to a crescendo and then drops back to a whisper, and as he becomes more desperate, every other line becomes “I want you” and finally you can feel his heart breaking as he sings “I know I am going to feel that way till you kill it / I want you, I want you.”
Both “Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?”and “Down In The Blue Chair” are both typical Costello, featuring all his different vocal nuances.
“Battered Old Bird” looks at a house full of eccentrics and the music is equally full of twists and turns, changing pace with Costello in full holler by the end.
On “Crimes Of Paris,” Elvis is joined on backing vocals by Cait O’Riordan, his wife at the time and previously a member of The Pogues, who Costello had produced. Again, it is a bittersweet take on love: “All words of love seem cruel and crass / When you’re tough and transparent as armored glass.”
With Hammond organ again to the fore, “Poor Napoleon” sees the song initially being delivered from a female point of view, with the great line “You can take the truthful things you’ve said to me / And put them on the head of a pin.”
The final track “Next Time Round” is one of those songs that, as soon as it starts, you feel that you have heard it before and you could imagine going on forever. Again the lyrics are sharp – “You used to take the breath out of me / Now I think you’ll be the death of me.”
For me, this is the last great Elvis Costello disc; he has never again been quite as angry or consistent.