Saturday, October 09, 2010

Blood & Chocolate (1986)

I said before that I have often had the feeling that Elvis Costello's two releases of this year were intended to offer a choice. If that's the case, this is mine. It's not the first but it is the last of his albums, to date, that has grabbed me immediately, and by the throat. No prep work required, no warm-up time necessary. I only needed to hear the first two minutes of "Uncomplicated" to get some sense of how much I was going to like it, and by the time I got to "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" I was already well and completely sold. There are a few arguably objective reasons to justify the choice, perhaps greatest that this proves once and for all that the Attractions are Costello's greatest accompanists. Then, too, this is more profoundly rooted in the punk-rock that provided the context for Costello's emergence in the first place. One of the most complex figures of his time and place, he has always, of course, been vastly more than a safety-pinned punk-rocker, if indeed he fits that profile at all—in terms of image and sound, the antecedents are all classic rock, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan and the Edwardian Stones. But the fury derived from punk-rock, and few have ever done seething anger better. So if, in King of America, Costello retreated to his classicist side (which has previously served him well, perhaps best in Get Happy!! ... though perhaps served best of all in King of America), here in Blood & Chocolate he pulls to another side, the furious misanthrope—which has also previously served him well, perhaps best in This Year's Model. And, because that happens to be my favorite of all his albums, it's probably why I prefer Blood & Chocolate to King of America. Don't get me wrong. I love Get Happy!! (and King of America), and when forced to make a choice I will ultimately make the one I have already made: both. Don't give me either/or, give me "both." But across the dusty years, I have surely spent hours and hours more with Blood & Chocolate—it always waits there for me, ready to go. Push play. The band is thick and walloping and if Declan's mood is no better than on King of America, he opts here for sarcastic and bitter than for self-pitying and sullen and despondent, and that has made all the difference. Obviously these were not the best of times for him, but just as obviously he reached deep, in the case of both albums, to produce the kind of work that's worth spending a lifetime, all of a long lifetime, living with and occupying. Not every day. But there as needed.

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