King of America - 1986 Elvis Costello album

Yeah, yeah, currently the 3rd Elvis Costello Thread on the front page of Café Society but this was inspired by the Your favorite Elvis Costello song Thread and I didn’t want to hijack.

In that Thread, I was happy to see a few favorites listed from the 1986 album released under the band name The Costello Show. Sure, not a lot of representation but, as I had always thought of it as an overlooked album, I was happy to see any songs listed from King of America.

A babysitter had turned me on to Elvis Costello while I was pretty young and she set me up with the first few albums. The very first album that I bought myself as a newly released Elvis Costello album was Spike. Then, for a quick peek into what I might be missing in the intervening albums I picked up the 1989 compilation Girls +£÷ Girls =$& Girls.

That compilation album was great, not confined to just the “hits”. A few songs stood out right away as having all of that Elvis Costello character but with a different sound. Even before checking to confirm, I just knew they all had to be from the same album: “Loveable”, “Brilliant Mistake”, “Poisoned Rose”, “Indoor Fireworks”.

I don’t remember clearly enough to say that King of America was the very first album that I bought while filling in the gap of albums missing from my collection, but it was definitely one of the first. I loved it right away. Of course the four songs mentioned above- I loved those songs enough that I determined to get the album from which they came. Then, upon first listen I was treated to greats like “American Without Tears”, “Our Little Angel”, “The Big Light”, and “Sleep of the Just”.

There was a stretch of time where this was my most listened to Elvis Costello album, an album I could always listen to straight through without skipping a track. Being reminded of it while reading that “favorites” Thread, I realize it’s been quite some time since I’ve listened to it and some of those songs I haven’t even thought about in a long time. I think it’s time to bring it back into regular rotation.

Anybody else love this album?
From the other Thread:

I just sampled all of the songs. I listened to the first 5 or 10 seconds then skipped random to a few places in each song. I didn’t really like it. Is it indicative of his other albums or is this kind of “experimental?”

I can’t make any negative comments about Elvis Costello, his quality of musicianship is pretty easy to see… I just happened not to care for this set of songs…

Thank you for pulling my quote over to this thread, because I truly love this album. Everything EC does has feeling, but for me the feeling has a rare depth here: elegaic, wistful, and yes, still sometimes bitterly funny. This album feels like a heart broken and let down by something bigger than just love, but still managing to gallop to Glitter Gulch. It’s nearly perfect.

For me the only clinker is “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, which I think pretty much everyone else loves, but I find to be unsubtle and unnecessary. But that’s only one complaint.

Don’t know that I’d call it “experimental” since there’s nothing at all unconventional about the music, but it was a departure in that it was his first album without The Attractions (other than the first album, of course), it was his first album recorded in America and with (almost) all American musicians, and it was mostly acoustic. A little bit of Americana even creeps into the songwriting slightly. American themes are certainly present.

Well, matters of taste and whatnot. I’m certainly not going to argue with someone who valiantly “listened to the first 5 or 10 seconds then skipped random to a few places in each song.”

Maserschmidt, I agree about “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. Not a particularly inspired choice of a song to cover in the first place and it certainly stands out as not quite in place when listening to the album as a whole. But the gems are truly gems …and they are plentiful.

Really? I’m not arguing with you… I’ve just found that 95% of the time if I don’t like the beginning of a song I am not going to like to like the rest of it either. I’ve allways thought it had to do with the tone and chord progression, etc, of music in general.

But, that could just be a personal quirk of mine.

Some of those sidemen were Elvis Presley’s musicians, which was mildly clever.

Including James Burton, one of my favorite guitarists. He plays wonderful on King Of America, and Costello used him on several albums from then on. Yeah, I really like that album, I agree that his version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood is the only weak song on it (and why include it in the first place on a 15 song album, an uninspired version of a song covered better umpteen times before?). Other than that, they are all fantastic, highlights are American Without Tears, Glitter Gulch and Indoor Fireworks. It’s notable that he came up in the same year, only seven months later, with a very different, but equally strong album with the Attractions, Blood And Chocolate. 1986 was good year for EC, these are two of the strongest albums of his catalog.

King of America was the first CD I ever bought. I grew up in the 80s, and for most of the decade I was listening to cassette tapes. I had amassed what was in my mind a pretty good collection of cassettes – I had a bunch of Elvis Costello, including King of America. Right before I got my first CD player (this would have been 1987 or 1988), I went to the store to get my first CD. If I recall correctly, the selection of music on CDs back then was much smaller than what you could get on tape or vinyl. Anyway, rather than take a chance on something I didn’t fully know, I bought something that I knew I loved and would certainly listen to many times in the future.

To date, this remains my favorite Elvis album. I love the breadth of it (even the Animals cover), the lyrics (“she said she was working for the ABC News; it was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use”) and the music.

Just this morning I was listening to the new “Unfaithful Music” 2-CD compilation. A nice selection of songs from his whole career, but my favorite song on it – by far – was “Suit of Lights.”

I own it, somewhere, and have listened to it a few times, but it never really clicked for me. As of now it’s among my least favorite Costello albums, but I fully acknowledge I could just be failing to appreciate it.

Thanks for quoting my words from the other thread. Since I posted that a few days ago I’ve been listening to the album pretty exclusively (not exactly a chore for me).

Yes, I even love the Animals cover. And let us not forget I’ll Wear it Proudly and Indoor Fireworks.

The only other Elvis album that competes with King of America in my heart is Imperial Bedroom (don’t want to hijack, just want to point you in that direction if you’re unfamiliar).


As I said in the OP, I hadn’t listened to this album in a while. Being reminded of it while reading through the other Thread, I determined to put it back into regular rotation. Yesterday, I took the CD in my car with me and just let it play on repeat throughout the day. As soon as “I’ll Wear It Proudly” began, the memory of how much I love that song rushed back and I thought I definitely should have name-checked this one in the OP!

“If it moves then you fuck it, if it doesn’t move you stab it!”
Wonderful song. I’ll be damned if I can say what it’s about …but a wonderful song.

Could be you just don’t like it but if you do otherwise consider yourself an Elvis Costello fan, I’d suggest dusting it off and giving it another listen at least once in a while. Someday it may click for you.

Never listened to the album, but it gets a shout-out in The Pogues’s Fiesta.

The song “Loveable” was cowritten with Cait O’Riordan. I think it was in the liner notes for Girls +£÷ Girls =$& Girls that Costello explained that the song was written over the course of a transatlantic phone call “that the songwriters are still hoping to pay off with the royalties.”

I kind of gave up listening after Armed Forces or so. His voice is great but it can be too good: You can get away with a lot when you sing well. He is always clever but The tunes never get to me. It’s just a master craftsman proving he can do something. Does this sound like it really matters to him all that much? He had LPs before and so many after and duets and collaborations. It never ends. When he was making this there must have been other things I was listening to, probably the replacements.
I sampled it just now.