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Costello’s second Masterpiece of 1986...!,
This review is from: Blood & Chocolate (Audio CD)
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.