This month’s featured record is Tom Waits eclectic sprawling 1985 masterpiece. The second album of…
A few years ago I was lucky enough to work some shows with longtime Attraction’s drummer, Pete Thomas, and one night while packing down I took the opportunity to tell him how much I love the oft-neglected “Blood and Chocolate”. “Yeah”, he nodded and smiled “that was a good one”.
A good one, indeed. As the story goes, the relationship between singer and band was at a particularly low point and, according to Elvis, the producer Nick Lowe happily “agreed to an approach that would get the music recorded before the band and I fell out completely,”
What this meant in practice was everyone recording together in the same room with amps at near stage volume, no headphones, no separation and minimal overdubs. Nick Lowe would sit in the middle of the room with an acoustic guitar acting as a kind of conductor and time keeper while the songs were recorded with all members playing simultaneously in very few takes.
It’s a recording technique that’s not often used as it limits the producer and mix engineer’s control of both performances and sound. If one player messes up then you have to start all over again instead of editing their mistakes neatly out. If you want to turn up the drums you may find that you’re also inadvertently turning up the bass guitar that’s bled over in to the drum channels. In short, for a control freak, it’s a nightmare.
And yet listening to Blood and Chocolate, you’ll wish all albums were recorded this way. To hear these songs cut together fast, off the cuff and before an opportunity to second guess or sanitize could sneak in is more than worth the price of a little clarity (though, for the record I wouldn’t change anything about the roomy soupy sound of the album) The performances here are gritty, energized, and full blooded in a way no Elvis Costello and the Attractions collection before or since has been.
The songs too are some of the best in Costello’s songbook and the recording complements the material perfectly. As the fantastic and epically creepy “I Want You” nears it’s end the instrumental channels for The Attractions are switched off one by one until finally you hear them only as a ghostly presence bleeding in to Elvis Costello’s microphone. The effect is unsettling, it’s a great moment and there are at least a dozen more as good as it on this extraordinary record.