Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: Spike

No two Elvis Costello albums sound the same but it's pretty rare that one of his albums sounds like two or three different records. Spike, Elvis Costello's Warner Brothers debut, is all over the place musically. Recorded in New Orleans, Ireland and Hollywood and London, Spike draws from the musical backgrounds of all these places for a very schizophrenic listening experience. In addition to all those varied musical influences, Costello's 12th album also has a legendary cast of players: Christy Moore, Allen Toussaint, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Roger McGuinn, producer T-Bone Burnett, Chrissie Hynde and Paul McCartney, who co-wrote the album's greatest hit "Veronica."

Along with dabbling in storied musical legacies, Spike also features several songs drawing from Costello's family legacy. "Veronica" is about Costello's grandmother and her difficulty grasping to reality in her old age. "Any King's Shilling" and "Last Boat Leaving" were born out of his grandfather's experience as a military bandleader and the family often left behind.

Costello also delivers two of his most scathing political songs. "Let Him Dangle" wades into the capital punishment debate with a long-running case Costello found in old newspapers. The better song though is "Tramp the Dirt Down," an Irish traditional in which Costello contemplates whatever satisfaction may come from stomping on Margaret Thatcher's grave. Whenever I listen to it, I wonder if she's ever heard it and how many people will act out the song when she dies.

In the liner notes to the 2001 reissue of the album, the singer himself notes that if "Veronica" hadn't become a hit - and in doing so making the album one of his best sellers - Spike might have become one of his most obscure outings. Upon first listen, it's easy to see why he could be right. Whenever I put it on, I nod my way through the first two tracks but I really look forward to track three, "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" which features a delightful piano tune by Allen Toussaint and quite perplexing lyrics. Another highlight follows in "God's Comic," a cynic's idea of heaven and a God that's lying on a water-bed. Other songs like "Baby Plays Around" and "Satellite" and "Last Boat Living" will surprise you after repeated listens. If you don't let the oddest detours, like "Chewing Gum," "Staling Malone," and "Pad, Paws and Claws," bother you, then there is plenty of joy to be found throughout this album. 

Classics: Deep Dark Truthful Mirror, Veronica, God's Comic, Tramp the Dirt Down.

Songs I'd like to hear live: Deep Dark Truthful Mirror, God's Comic, Baby Plays Around, Last Boat Leaving

No comments:

Post a Comment