Never one to stay in a single musical genre for too long, Elvis Costello’s latest move is to track the course of American music since the 1920s, with countrified fiddle, banjo, dobro and bluegrass licks, some Sun Studios rock and roll and a few old school crooners thrown in. Simultaneously he plums the depths of his own career, recalling such past luminaries as ex-Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, as well as semi-regular collaborators Marc Ribot and T-Bone Burnett, producer of Costello’s King Of America album, which now seems as if it were a manifesto rather than a mere title, so immersed in Americana has Elvis become.
Costello’s political sneers at paying off America’s ‘national ransom’ never convince in the way his anti-Thatcherite diatribes did, and it’s pretty clear all that time spent hanging out with Burt Bacharach wasn’t in vain (‘You Hung The Moon’), although just when he got to study under George Gerswhin isn’t exactly clear. Hardly a new idiom in his looooong career (the nods to America and Nashville go right the way back to My Aim Is True) all in all it seems as if EC is paying homage to the music of the US in general, even including some Hissing Of The Summer Lawns era-Joni (‘One Bell Ringing’).
All the way through he never seems able to veer from the fact that he’s Elvis Costello and, try as he might, he can never really sound like anyone else. That may be a blessing or curse, depending on your tastes, but nothing sounds quite like an Elvis Costello album as an Elvis Costello album does, and this one, sounds very like an Elvis Costello album, except without the baroque archness that once made him interesting. Or unbearable. Depending on your taste, of course.