All the praise for this album comes from the first side, and I think you could probably push the second side off a cliff (/delete it from your hard-drive) without much consequence. “Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind” and “Blue Chair” exist only for their hooks, and none of them could vie for a spot on a “Top 50 Elvis Costello Hooks” list; “Battered Old Bird” has Costello focusing so much on lyrics that he completely forgets to do anything music-wise, a damn shame considering he’s usually good for both; “Crimes of Paris” almost forgets, so the Attractions throw in a psychedelic tangle of backing vocals in the song’s final minutes, but it’s a wet canoe ride until that point and goes on for too long even once it gets good. On “Poor Napoleon,” I really wish Costello’s newly-made wife, Cait O’Riordan, was given a large role instead of delegated to whispering the title’s words on about once a minute, though I would fail as both a reviewer and a fan of the movie if I forgot to mention somewhere that “Poor Napoleon” is credited to being written by a newly created alter-ego of Elvis Costello’s, Napoleon Dynamite, though reportedly with no relation to the one we all know and love. “Next Time Round” ends the album on a positive note thanks to the indelible melody in its chorus, but again, that’s really all it is.
But there are four good-great cuts on the first side that gives Blood and Chocolate a high ranking on a “Top X Elvis Costello Albums” list. “Uncomplicated” tells you everything you need to know in its title, a decidedly 2-chord entry that reminds me of similarly-minded songs from Elvis Costello’s debut but with added “psychedelic clutter and punkish clatter” that Costello and the Attractions had picked up in the near-decade in between. That description was courtesy of Rolling Stone’s Rob Tannenbaum, though he says those elements “ruin” the song. Me, I think it succeeds in part because of them (the other part is Costello’s hooks) – check out Pete Thomas’s drums, tossing triplets out of the steel factory whenever he feels like it. “I Hope You’re Happy Now” sounds like it could’ve been from either Armed Forces or Get Happy!! thanks to riding on Steve Nieve’s hooky keyboards, but the lyrics are all This Year’s Model, “I knew then what I know now I never loved you anyhow / And I hope you’re happy now,” completely belying the happy-sounding melody. This is true to Costello’s original form, the one that once upon a time made songs that managed to find their way onto punk compilations because he had snark and snide that “genuine” punk rockers would be jealous of, the one that once upon a time claimed the only things that motivated him were revenge and guilt. Thanks to packing more melody that either songs that sandwich it, “Tokyo Storm Warning” flies by, despite being one of the longest tracks here.
The best track though, is “I Want You,” and anyone who’s ever felt any emotion at all ought to appreciate it. Whereas the rest of the album was recorded live in a large studio for a live and large sound, “I Want You” is completely naked, both emotionally and musically. It starts as almost a solo Costello number before the members of the Attractions are directed on stage one at a time to push it through an extremely subtle crescendo and subsequently a similar decrescendo. It starts with some of Costello’s most direct lyrics, “I love you more than I can tell,” “I can’t say any more than “I love you” / Everything else is a waste of breath.” However, as the music rises, Costello descends into insanity from experiencing some of the worst emotions of existence, “It’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing / It’s the thought of him undressing you or you undressing / I want you” and “I’m going to say it again ’til I instill it / I know I’m going to feel this way until you kill it.” There’s a key moment at the 3:04 mark where he sings, “And you were fool enough to love it when he said, ‘I want you’” and the extremely fake way he sings those same words he’s been uttering the whole way through from someone else’s perspective.
Between 1977 and 1984, Elvis Costello had been pumping out albums at an alarming rate – exactly one per year. In 1985, he took a break after disowning 1984’s Goodbye Cruel World as “a load of wank.” In the beginning of 1986, he released King of America after disbanding the Attractions and renaming himself Declan MacManus to distance himself from that album. About a minute later, he re-assembled the Attractions and pumped out Blood & Chocolate. Both albums are respectable and solid, especially considering they were released during a time when most beloved artists that started in the 70s (or even earlier) were falling off – hard. But I can’t help but think how much better it would have been if Costello just wrote one really good one or waited a year before releasing this one so he could flesh out some actual tunes for the second side. Ah, well, “I Want You” is worth the price of admission.