Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: King Of America

The first time I saw Elvis Costello live was in 2005 during the tour for The Delivery Man. I had already devoured most of his albums, except for King of America and Painted From Memory, so I thought that I would know all the songs he would perform that night. Midway through his set, he performed "Our Little Angel" and not only was I glad to be surprised with a great song I hadn't heard before but I also knew that I was missing out on a really good record.

1986's King of America, Costello's 10th album, is almost like a rebirth after the self-inflicted pain of 1984's Goodbye Cruel World. The album marks Costello's first collaboration with T-Bone Burnett as well as the first time since My Aim is True that the singer is supported by a new band for most of the album. Though the Attractions were going to be involved in part of the record, they were relegated to one song in the final cut. The new band was comprised of a seasoned musicians, some of whom even played with the original King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley. These new elements and a longer period of time between recordings helped make this one of Costello's best albums. It features an almost indescribable mix of Folk, Rock and Country music that provide a rich setting for some of Costello's most character-driven songs. 

 I think nearly all of the songs in this album could be expanded into short stories.Without confessing too much, Costello manages to bring several stories to life in the span of the album's 15 songs: from the dissolving couples in "Brilliant Mistake" and "Indoor Fireworks" to the sad lament of a girl taken advantage of by a soldier on leave in "Sleep of the Just." That last song is particularly affecting as it closes the album. I think that in this album Costello fully embraces the device of singing from another person's point of view, like in "Our Little Angel" where a parent seems his daughter's spurned lover very discouraging advice. There are glimpses of Costello in more biographical songs like " I'll Wear It Proudly" and "Lovable" both honest expressions of finding new love - the album coincides with the beginning of Costello's relationship with Pogue member Cait O'Riordan; while "Poisoned Rose" sounds like the conclusion of one very sad affair. King of America does include two covers, The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and J.B. Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues," which add to the Americana feel of the album but not much else.

Classics: Brilliant Mistake, Our Little Angel, Indoor Fireworks, Little Palaces, American Without Tears, Poisoned Rose, Sleep of the Just. 

Songs I'd like to hear live: Our Little Angel, Little Palaces, Jack of All Parades, Suit of Lights, Sleep of the Just

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