In some ways, Elvis Costello‘s Blood & Chocolate was an end-of-an-era record. Released on Sept. 15, 1986, the record arrived only seven months after the release of King of America – an unusual move for any artist in the ’80s but especially for Costello, who was riding high with both fans and critics.
It would be the last time the Attractions, who backed the singer-songwriter and received co-billing on albums from 1978’s This Year’s Model to 1984’s Goodbye Cruel World, were credited on an LP cover until 1996’s All this Useless Beauty. It was also the last time Costello would work with Nick Lowe, who produced his first six albums, and Costello’s last album with Columbia Records, which released his 1977 debut, My Aim Is True.
The album is a bit of musical whiplash, coming off the roots rock of King of America, which was produced by T Bone Burnett and recorded with session musicians Costello named the Confederates. A single song was credited to the Attractions, who reportedly weren’t into America‘s sound or their leader’s relationship with his new producer.
In the liner notes to Blood & Chocolate‘s 2002 reissue, Costello calls it “a record of people beating and twanging things with a fair amount of yelling,” in the 2002 reissue liner notes. The album’s opening track, “Uncomplicated,” sets that tone, recalling the singer-songwriter’s snarling ’70s work.
Hear Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ ‘Uncomplicated’
Other tracks take similar paths, while also pushing suitable radio lengths with the singles “Tokyo Storm Warning” – which was cowritten, and includes backing vocals, by Costello’s new wife, the Pogues’ Cait O’Riordan – and “I Want You,” both of which clock in at more than six minutes.
Other songs, like “Blue Chair” and “Battered Old Bird” were worked up with the Attractions during the King of America sessions but left off the earlier record. And in a way they signaled the turmoil going on within the group at the time.
Hear Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ ‘I Want You’
According to bassist Bruce Thomas’s biography Rough Notes, the breakup of their working relationship stemmed from Costello’s treatment of keyboardist Steve Nieve at a particularly vulnerable time in his life as well as various other annoyances. While they’d play together again on 1996’s All This Useless Beauty, Thomas then exited for good, and Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas were rechristened as the Imposters for later Costello albums.
There was generally just an air of tension and suspicion at the time, especially when they were all in the studio working on the record, as Costello himself noted in his 2002 liner notes. He acknowledged that going on a solo tour, working with Burnett and brining in session musicians to replace the Attractions after eight albums together left some sore feelings. In the liner notes to the 1995 reissue, he even states, “There was a good chance that this was going to be our last work together.”
Hear Elvis Costello Hear Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’
Blood & Chocolate closes with a step into the future that also sounds like one final nod to the past. Musically, “Next Time Round” recalls the earlier, tougher Attractions but with more style and grace. And Costello looks forward as he spits out lines that sting with the bitterness of his past: “You used to take the breath out of me / Now I think you’ll be the death of me.”
When he returned three years later on Spike, he had new collaborators, a new label and a new viewpoint.
Top 100 ’80s Rock Albums
UCR takes a chronological look at the 100 best rock albums of the ’80s.