During his self-imposed sabbatical from recording, Elvis signed a worldwide deal with Warner Bros. and said goodbye to the Attractions, confident that his career was on its way to new heights. And for a while, it sure seemed that way.
Having enjoyed their collaboration on King Of America, he reteamed with T-Bone Burnett to “cast” an album based on the specific needs of each of his new, eclectic songs. But rather than the Americana celebrated previously, Spike boasts arrangements flavored by Roger McGuinn, Chrissie Hynde, new pal Paul McCartney, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans and a handful of traditional Irish session pros (sometimes on the same track). A fascination with recent Tom Waits records inspired the utilization of odd percussion and similarly unorthodox instruments, adding to the overall clatter.
As much as the album sounds different from what had come before, it was just as jarring to see “Veronica”, a McCartney collaboration about Alzheimer’s, actually hit the Top 20. “Satellite” is an eerie prediction of the Internet porn industry, and “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” gave another hint of the future, with the piano contributed by Allen Toussaint in place of the estranged Steve Nieve. The New Orleans influence continues on the wacky “Chewing Gum” and the instrumental “Stalin Malone”. On the Irish side of things, “Any King’s Shilling” is a wartime short story, while “Tramp The Dirt Down” was his angriest indictment yet of Margaret Thatcher.
Spike was an unlikely hit, and sent new fans back to the catalog. But its overall oddness and forced feeling haven’t kept it in rotation over the years. Still, it was proudly included in the first wave of Rhino reissues, fortified with a bonus disc of demos, a few B-sides and a “vocal” version of “Stalin Malone”, the words of which were recited over the track.
Elvis Costello Spike (1989)—3
2001 Rhino: same as 1989, plus 17 extra tracks