King of America
Following the artistic failure of Goodbye Cruel World, Costello returned to a more organic approach for his two 1986 albums. The first, King of America, was recorded with T-Bone Burnett, capturing the same country flavour as Almost Blue, but comprised of Costello originals. These songs are simpler musically than Costello generally writes – instead of dazzling with complex changes, he’s often writing simple three chord songs, putting more of a focus on his lyrics. There are some impressive songs here, but when Costello doesn’t have first grade material to work with King Of America can be a little dull.
Unusually, the strongest songs are clustered at the end of the album. ‘Jack Of All Parades’ is pretty, while. ‘Suit Of Lights’ has another of Costello’s great cad put-downs (“if it moves then you fuck it/if it doesn’t then you stab it.”). And my favourite is the concluding ‘Sleep Of The Just’, with its quiet, elegant drama (“It was a powerful day/There were black crows on the road”). Other highlights include the anti-Cadbury protest of ‘Little Palaces’, but overall King of America drags at almost an hour, and could have used a trim; in particular the cover of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ adds little to the original.
King of America is a worthwhile album, but without The Attractions’ spark and the dazzling chord sequences of his more sophisticated releases, it’s like Costello is trying to entertain with one hand tied behind his back.