The Album List #6: Elvis Costello “King Of America”

It's a trick they do with mirrors and with chemicals.

Picking one Elvis Costello record from the reams and reams of worthy Elvis Costello records should have been a nightmare. But it wasn’t. King of America has always been my favourite album by the awesome and brilliant Declan MacManus. There was never any question in my mind it would be on this list, and that it would feature high on it. He shot to fame the year I was born, and he remains the one musician that has never, ever, EVER disappointed me.

This album takes EC away from his humble new wave punk rock beginnings and entrenched him as the man who can do everything. This rich, soulful, country tinged album is criminally overlooked, even within his own catalogue. It breaks my heart.

I’m the type of Elvis fan who own his incredible interview show Spectacle on dvd, if only to watch his interviews with the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Elton John, Richard Thompson, U2, and Bruce Springsteen over and over again.  But my favourite was the one Mary Louise Parker did about him. He played some of the big hits, but the moment that got me was this:

“Brilliant Mistake” is one of my favourite songs of all time.  There is still that trademark bite of humour, but it has softened with age and time, wrapped in a gentle folk tune. It’s a song I must listen to ever single time I hear the opening chords. Very few songs make me do that. “In The Midnight Hour”. “Waterloo Sunset”. “Daydream Believer”. “Brilliant Mistake”. The sweet sadness of the music brilliantly plays off the deep cynicism that is Elvis’ trademark.

The album is drenched with Americana roots music styles. Elvis, a walking encyclopaedia of music, constantly absorbs the noise around him. He had just come off a tour with T-Bone Burnett, and it’s there in the melodies of songs like “The Poisoned Rose”, which is soulful, Southern country, or “Shoes Without Heels”, which is more Texas style story telling country. Elvis’  love and passion for country music is legendary. His perfect all country covers album Almost Blue is a must own, if you don’t already. But this album shows his own flair for the genre. The U.K. is of course not known for producing country music stars.  Elvis Costello, though, could have been if the muse didn’t keep jumping ( he’s touched on everything, including the Great American Songbook, jazz, and famously classical music with The Juliet Letters, which is also quite a lovely record).

Even then, he covers “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, the incredible Nina Simone song later made famous by the Animals ( his version is just an 80s style carbon copy with his own unique vocal tics instead of Eric Bourdon’s). It’s sadly out-of-place on this incredibly rich, honest album. When you hear Elvis try to gently expand his vocal range on “Indoor Fireworks”, or the rushing train beats that propel songs like “Suit of Lights” into a subtle climax, you hear devotion and adoration for a genre that is much maligned and neglected.

And you get “Brilliant Mistake”, which is fantastic even is absurdist British thrillers starring two fantastic Davids.

Just go and buy the damn thing already. It’s shamefully underrated and under represented on YouTube. Just… right now.


And while you’re at it, buy yourself a copy of Blackpool. Seriously.


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