When Elvis Costello decided to finally to roots rock HIS way (as opposed to the mis-fit of "Almost Blue'), he switched his name back to Declan MacManus and forged ahead into brilliance. With the exception of the slippery jam session of "Eisenhower Blues," the 15 songs on "King Of America" are as flawless a whole album as anything from his early years and his most successful collaboration with a producer, in this case, T-Bone Burnett, save Burt Bacharach.
By recruiting some of the best musicians old and new, songs like "Brilliant Mistake" and "American Without Tears" effortlessly blossom with atmosphere and honesty. Even though Elvis describes his state of mind in less than flattering terms in the CD's extra liner notes, it's incredible just how seamlessly the songs here flow through the course of the album. Almost every song here glimmers with the kind of purity that Burnett would eventually trademark with the likes of "Oh Brother Where Art Thou." Even the Attractions, who at this venture, had become estranged and embittered, contribute one of their best performances ever with the single song "Suit Of Lights." Given the song's topic of entertainment as entrapment and the image of a southern mob's tar and feather party as "the closest to a work of art that they will ever be," it's not surprising that they could relate.
In fact, Elvis seemed to be at a more relaxed state of lyricism than since the underrated "Trust." Compare the fire analogies of "The Only Flame In Town" (on "Goodbye Cruel World") to the far superior "Indoor Fireworks" here. Or such leap from the speakers couplets like "She said that she was working for the ABC news, it was as much of the alphabet as she new how to use" from "Brilliant Mistake." There is also one of my all-time favorite Costello-isms, as he describes a relationship with a contrary girlfriend to be akin to "a chainsaw running through a dictionary." Perhaps my favorite moment on "King Of America" would be the two person viewpoint of the disc's closer, "Sleep Of The Just." A tale of an army pin-up girl and her soldier brother, it's a masterful tale of conflicting family and emotions, with a slow sad organ fade.
Now that Elvis has renegotiated his pathway to roots music and blues via "The Delivery Man," "King Of America" shows the vitality of his early exploration of the genre. It remains one of the many five star albums in his Columbia years worthy of rediscovery.