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4.7 out of 5 stars
Blood & Chocolate
Format: Audio CDChange
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2006
Elvis Costello once described the sound of Blood & Chocolate as a "p*ssed-off divorcee's take on the territory of This Year's Mode", which makes a lot of sense. The album came out of a great period of change for Costello, with relationships between himself and his long-term band the Attractions breaking down, his first marriage breaking up and a few years of alcoholism and personal failure/professional compromise finally manifesting itself in the feelings of pain, paranoia, guilt and obsession that are expressed on this album.
The overall sound of Blood & Chocolate is more volatile than anything Costello had done before (or since?), with the music being stripped down and spiked with distortion to create something that is much more post-punk than the pub-rock of My Aim is True, This Years Model and Trust. This is evident right from the start, with the industrial thrash of Uncomplicated, in which Costello takes a repetitive song structure and lyrics that are more of a chant, and bashes through it with his guitar resonating with drones of angular feedback. On top of this, we have the jagged rhythm section, with the clamouring percussion of Pete Thomas propelling the song forward, whilst the bass work from that other Thomas, Bruce, keeps the whole song from falling apart into a mess of aggravated guitar work and those pained, over-emotive vocals. The songs here are filled with Costello's lyrical wit and imagination, but there are darker nods to guilt, obsession and self-persecution. Even a "pop song" like I Hope You're Happy Now manages to overflow with angst and bile directed towards the new partner of a former lover ("he's acting innocent and proud still we know what he's after / like a matador with his pork-sword while we all die of laughter / in his turquoise pyjamas and his motorcycle hat / I hope you're happy now... / because you'll soon put paid to that"), setting the template for subsequent songs like the sugar-coated double-punch of Poor Napoleon and Next Time Round.
The songs on the album generally switch between loud and raucous songs like the opening Uncomplicated, the stream-of-conscious scream of Tokyo Storm Warning, and the blistering, blues referencing Honey are You Straight or are You Blind?, with more acidic pop songs like the aforementioned I Hope You're Happy Now, Crimes of Paris and Poor Napoleon. All of the songs are exceptional, featuring jagged arrangements, snarling vocals and the kind of lyrics that fall somewhere between the pop misanthropy of Mark E. Smith, Luke Haines, Kevin Rowland (circa Don't Stand Me Down) and Van Morrison (at his most self-pitying). Tokyo Storm Warning for example has a repetitive rhythm that makes great use of Steve Nieve, and some of EC's most imaginative lyrics, which take on the form of a surreal ballad that moves from one bizarre vignette to another... featuring astounding images like "the sky fell over cheap Korean, monster-movie scenery / and spilled into the reservoir of the crushed capsule hotel / between the Disney abattoir, and the chemical refinery / I knew I was in trouble, but I thought I was in hell" and featuring that great masked refrain; "what do we care... if the world is a joke?".
Probably the most famous song on the album is the caustic confessional, I Want You, which is the only song I know of that truly captures the dark side of relationship disillusionment, obsession and heartbreak. The song starts of nice enough, with Costello loosely picking an acoustic guitar, singing trite sweet-nothings like "oh my baby, baby... / I love you more than I can tell / I don't think I can live without you / and I know that I never will", before a tremolo tainted key-change erupts and the electric guitar comes in backed only by a hint of percussion and the creeping organ-refrain that wells ominously in the background throughout. Costello's vocals are straight out of a Hammer horror film here, as his voice cracks and wavers as he spits out lyrics like "it's the stupid detains that my heart is breaking for / it's the way your shoulders shake and what they're shaking for / it's knowing that he knows you know after only guessing / it's the thought of him undressing you... or you undressing" before intoning the title refrain and breaking loose with a two-note guitar solo!!
I Want You is really the heart of the album and the song that best defines what the album is about. Costello has said that the title of the album is indicative of both the style and content of the record as a whole, with Blood & Chocolate suggesting something that is both violent and sweet, or pleasurable and repulsive in equal amounts!! These statements are true and are certainly valid when attached to songs like Uncomplicated, Tokyo Storm Warning, I Want You and the great (sort of) ballad, Battered Old Bird. Here, Costello takes images and scenarios from his childhood and crafts a dark song that brims with surreal horror-film imagery and moments of warm regret. My favourite verse is probably the darkest, with Costello giving a run down of the inhabitants of his flat-block, with Costello singing; "on the second floor there are two old maids / with each one wishing that the other was afraid / and next door to them lives a man so mild / till he chopped off the head of a visitor's child / ...he danced upon the bonfire / swallowed sleeping pills like dreams / with a bottle of sweet sherry that / everything redeems".
The album was a big influence on the early sound of Radiohead, with Thom Yorke citing both Blood & Chocolate and King of America as an influence on the writing of The Bends and elements of OK Computer (Electioneering springs to mind), whilst Luke Haines nodded to the abrasive guitar work, over-emotive vocals and minimal production as an influence on The Auteurs' album, After Murder Park. Blood & Chocolate, here expanded with an extra disk of related material and sleeve-notes, is one of Costello's key albums and remains, perhaps, my personal favourite Elvis Costello album, ever (...though there are several other contenders!!).
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2002
ok so i was 17 when this record came out so no wonder I loved it. Just days it seemed from the release of the wonderful King of America , but oh my god , what's this ? A more festering , blistered , bilious , vitriolic , glorious carcrash of a record I've yet to hear. It's been around for a while now and my opinion of it is undiminished by time. Nobody is more honest and open than Costello and he manages here to express feelings even those who consider themselves articulate struggle to pin down. Blood and Chocolate ? Love and Desolation more like. He's on towering form and probably couldn't help himself. "You make him sound like frozen food , his love will last forever ..." , it would take too long to list the amazing lyrics so I'll resist the temptation. It's only the truth , the man's a Genius .
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2002
How can you listen to this without believing Elvis is The Don? Ignore the bonus CD, because the 11 tracks on Blood and Chocolate are 11 of the finest I ever heard.....yet I must admit I'm not a big fan of Elvis, his Greatest Hits package seems to cater towards a Radio 2 audience, and apart from Brutal Youth, his other albums only seem to have a couple of standout tracks (and no, I haven't heard them all).......Lyrically he'll always stand out as one of the masters, but Blood and chocolate is 11 tracks of pure loud guitar, beautiful organ, perfect songwriting, beautiful vocals.......it's like all the great Elvis Pop Songs you've heard, but rawer, more honest. Even the downbeat tracks have a raw emotional clarity (whenever John Peel plays I Want You, he's inundated with listeners trying to discover What That Song Was)........... And if Tokyo Storm Warning isn't one of the most perfect Rock'n'roll song and Crimes of Paris one of the most perfect pop songs, then I'm Napoleon himself......
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2002
I have my reservations about this new series of reissues but I have to say that some of the alternate takes on the bonus disc are better to my ears than the original tracks on the first disc.
The acoustic demos at the end of the bonus disc are pure gold. The speeded up version of battered old bird is first class and the bonus disc version of blue chair could have come from Get Happy. This reissue is probably in the top three or four Costello albums and is worth rebuying or just buying if you don't already have it.
(it's just a shame we didn't get all the extras the first time the discs were reissued)
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2002
Blood & Chocolate is simply a stunning Costello CD, brimming with anger, hurt & pain, most of it inflicted by the supposed fairer sex. The opening 'Uncomplicated' prepares the ground for 'I hope you're happy now' & the intense lyrics 'I know that this will hurt you more than it hurts me' & 'I never loved you anyhow'. Six minutes worth of the epic 'Tokyo Storm Warning' where 'The sky fell over cheap Korean monster movie scenery' follows...
The haunting 'Home is anywhere you hang your head' features the classic line 'But you know she doesn't want you, but you can't seem to get it through your head' sums up the true feeling of rejection, as your loved one wanders into the sunset, clutching a large chuck of your heart in her hand.
However, none of this prepares you for the sheer beauty of 'I want you', a song that once reduced Janice Long to tears live on air, and did the same to me on 1st listening. Even the hardest of hard hearts would do well to hang onto the tears in maybe the most beautiful song ever penned.
The CD maintains it's quality, despite peaking on track 5, but the likes of 'Battered old bird', 'Crimes of Paris' & 'Next time round' are in no way poor quality & still manage to toy with the emotions in a way no other musician can.
The 2nd disc adds more tracks to the £ & is well worthy of a listen, if you can prize the 1st disc from the player!
Costello is a living treasure, a man who understands & conveys the thing that most men fear & even more refuse to express....emotion!
If you're heartbroken & have sphed too many tears over the one who stole your heart, then buy this cd & shed a few more....& let the healing begin...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2004
Written, recorded and performed only a few months after the critically acclaimed trek into the realms of country with King of America, Costello would prove his diversity even more so with this stripped down, back to basics assault on the senses that still resonates with a sense of shear psychosis to this very day. Costello felt that a certain familiarity would be needed to pull off such a cathartic endeavour, even going so far as to re-enlist Armed Forces producer Nick Lowe, as well as bringing back the Attractions for one last vomit of pure, vitriolic aggression. Here we find Elvis and the band creating music darker than what we’d ever heard before, with clanging guitars swamped in distortion, violent organ passages and their allusions to death, aggressive drumming and of course, bitter lyrics coupled with a snide, sarcastic delivery that create the perfect backing atmosphere to these tales of loss and woe.
The mood is established right away, with the snarling, semi-title track Uncomplicated, which takes on the middle ground left between the Pistols and PIL, as well as acting as a precursor to the grunge movement and primarily the Pixies. Costello’s voice is exceedingly high in the mix, with the deft musicianship of the disintegrating band acting as an atmospheric bed that carries us from one wild mood swing to the next. Track two is a classic Costello moment, acting as the obvious evolution of Alison, to Shabby Doll and later taking it’s form as Baby Plays Around and Still. The music is very much Elvis of This Years Model, with the punk/new wave influences worn proudly on his sleeve, as the murderous intent of the lyrics are masked by the joyously catchy instrumentation of the band. Tokyo Storm Warning takes us on a trip into the surreal - with lyrics that lament everyone from gormless celebrities to the KKK - coming across as a dangerously astute stream-of-conscious rant that is part Bob Dylan, part Dennis Leary... whilst the musical arrangement was an obvious influence on Radiohead, circa the Bends.
The spirit of anger, bitterness and defeat is stamped all over other such standouts like Home is Anywhere you Hang Your Head and the more bluesy Honey are you Straight, or are you Blind...? which clearly demonstrate Elvis’s lyrical and musical diversity. The main concerns of the band come to a crescendo with the album’s true centrepiece, I Want You... an epic journey into the realms of perversity and sexual obsession that was so good, British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom based a film around it. Here Costello assumes the role of the jilted lover, forced to stalk the object of his affections before belittling her with snide remarks and perverse insinuations, which culminates with the title of the song being repeated over and over again like some degrading mantra. The lyrics are the most honest and heartbreaking that Elvis has ever written, as he layers them over Nick Lowe’s plaintive acoustic melody, Bruce Tomas’s jazz-tinged percussion and Steve Nieve’s funeral-like organ riff. Meanwhile, lost within the cacophony of emotional collapse we find perhaps the most twisted guitar solo ever... as our man Elvis jams away on a two-note, tremolo-drenched assault designed to match the viciousness of the lyrics.
Other songs such as Battered Old Bird (an evocative reminisce on his Liverpool childhood with experimental production techniques) and the Crimes of Paris (a nice, folk-influenced confessional) are less obviously tortured and emotional in their musical creation, though no less affecting and cohesive when placed alongside the previous compositions. The final four songs wind things down perfectly, as the mood of heartbreak and yearning is replaced by a prevailing sense of hope. Blood & Chocolate is one of those all time defining records that I always go back to whenever I’m feeling pushed beyond my emotional limit. It is more than simply an integral part of Costello’s oeuvre... it’s also one of the key records of the decade.
This wonderful re-issue (like all the Edsel/Rhino re-releases) is an essential purchase for fans that haven’t already got the Demon release from 1993. Disk two features a slew of demos, out takes and classic covers; whilst Elvis once again contributes some wonderfully witty linear notes that chronicle the record’s conception. It can at times be a somewhat self-pitying affair, but the always imaginative lyrics and dense guitar work of Costello coupled with the detailed arrangements of the band easily cements it’s reputation as one of the forgotten classics of the 80’s. This is essential.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2011
Elvis is pissed off. He's rounded up The Attractions & bullied them back into the studio. And Nick Lowe is back behind the desk. FANTASTIC. Blood & Chocolate was Costello's 11th LP &, in retrospect, one of his finest. It's certainly one of MY personal favourites - after the quadruple whammy of his first 4, absolutely crucial albums anyway. Seriously, if you can make it through the raucous "Tokyo Storm Warning" or the borderline psychotic "I Want You" without leaping off the sofa to turn the hi-fi just one... more... notch then you've already got one foot in the grave, I suspect? Blood & Chocolate is a ragged, raging, REMARKABLE record, & a minor masterpiece to boot. Treat yourself to Edsel's 2xCD version if you can still find it at a reasonable price, there's a whole disc of extras & they're all terrific. Phew!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2010
In a 2013 edition of Mojo Conor O'Brien (of the Irish indie-folk group Villagers) nominated this sometimes undervalued album in the retro music magazine's 'Last Night A Record Changed My Life' feature. He offered a number of reasons for his selection. These include:

1. The artwork.
2. The rawness of sound that can be found on songs like Uncomplicated.
3. The succinct and punchy pop songs like I Hope You're Happy Now and Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?
4. Epic, sophisticated, multi-layered songs like Tokyo Storm Warning and Battered Old Bird.

I agree with those sentiments: I think Blood & Chocolate is one of the best albums in Costello's occasionally overrated back catalogue.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2010
battered old bird - please listen to this song, the quality of it moves one to the point where it almost becomes unbearable, listen in a dark room at high volume, it seems like he's there with you....and then there's i want you; heartbreak depicted like nothing i've heard elsewhere. this has enriched my life, i hope it does yours. steve matejko, swindon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2009
Can't think of a good crtique but that I love this album, every song. 'I want you' is my favourite. Passionate real songs. Love the voice and the music and the lyrics
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