Elvis Costello – King of America (1986)

More Elvis Costello

More King of America

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  • Elvis’s brilliant 1986 release finally comes to the site with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides
  • Both sides are incredibly clean, clear and lively with a huge bottom end and lots of space around all of the instruments
  • Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is only one highlight among many – these are some of his best songs 
  • AMG raves: “Stripping away much of the excess that cluttered Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello returned to his folk-rock and pub rock roots with King of America, creating one of his most affecting and personal records … one of his masterpieces.”

Even though the album was recorded right here in the states, the domestic copies are clearly made from dubs, sounding quite a bit more opaque, vague, closed-in, flat and dry than most of the British pressings we played. Like most Costello albums on domestic vinyl, they should be avoided.

Of course, I and all my friends, at least the ones who were into Elvis at the time, had a copy with exactly this kind of mediocre sound and we liked it just fine. Now, thirty years on, I couldn’t sit through that kind of sound with a gun to my head.

Setting higher standards for yourself — consciously or unconsciously, the process works both ways — is an important aspect of becoming a more critical listener. Many of the Heavy Vinyl audiophile remasters sound “opaque, vague, closed-in, flat and dry” next to the best Hot Stamper pressings, but if you’ve never heard one, how would you know what you’re missing?

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes –even as late as 1986
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of the orchestra having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any UK pressing will play, and since only the right imports have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.]

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Brilliant Mistake 
Lovable 
Our Little Angel 
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood 
Glitter Gulch 
Indoor Fireworks 
Little Palaces 
I’ll Wear It Proudly

Side Two

American Without Tears 
Eisenhower Blues 
Posioned Rose 
The Big Light 
Jack Of All Parades 
Suit Of Lights 
Sleep Of The Just

AMG Review

Stripping away much of the excess that cluttered Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello returned to his folk-rock and pub rock roots with King of America, creating one of his most affecting and personal records.

Costello literally took on the album as a return to roots, billing himself by his given name Declan MacManus and replacing the Attractions with a bunch of L.A. session men (although his old band appears on one cut), who give the album a rootsy but sleek veneer that sounds remarkably charged after the polished affectations of his Langer/Winstanley productions.

And not only does the music sound alive, but so do his songs, arguably his best overall set since Trust. Working inside the limits of country, folk, and blues, Costello writes literate, introspective tales of loss, heartbreak, and America that are surprisingly moving — he rarely got better than “Brilliant Mistake,” “Glitter Gulch,” “American Without Tears,” “Big Light,” and “Indoor Fireworks.”

What separates King of America from the underrated Almost Blue is that Costello’s country now sounds lived-in and worn, bringing a new emotional depth to the music, and that helps make it one of his masterpieces.

Wikipedia

During late 1984 and early 1985, Costello undertook a series of solo tours, sharing the bill with musician T-Bone Burnett. Costello and Burnett recorded a single together in early 1985, and ventured to imagine appropriate backing musicians for Costello’s new songs. They booked time at Ocean Way and Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles, and assembled members of the TCB Band who had backed Elvis Presley in the 1970s (Costello being more familiar with their work on records by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris).

Other sessions included the jazz bassist Ray Brown and New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer, and a group of musicians dubbed ‘the Confederates,’ featuring T-Bone Wolk, Mickey Curry, and producer Mitchell Froom. Elvis’s usual backing musicians the Attractions appear on only one track, “Suit of Lights”, but returned to record in full Costello’s next album, Blood & Chocolate.

In the album credits, Costello uses three different noms de plume for himself: his given name of Declan MacManus; his stage name of Elvis Costello; and the nickname awarded him by producer Nick Lowe earlier in his career; the Little Hands of Concrete, the last being a reference to his habitual breaking of guitar strings during recording sessions.

The version of the 1964 song by Nina Simone “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was released a single, and peaked at #33 on the UK singles chart.