The impetus for [Elvis Costello's] The Delivery Man is "Hidden Shame", a song Costello had written for Johnny Cash in the mid-'80s. The song's character (assuming the name Abel for this record) was inspired by a real-life story of a man who confessed to the murder of a childhood friend after a prison stay for lesser crimes. "Hidden Shame"'s lyrical twist ("They locked me up here for the ideas in my head / They never got me for the thing I really did") is an appropriate starting point for one of The Delivery Man's central themes: the idea that one can find a sort of substituted redemption for a past crime by paying for a lesser one. That concept is echoed from Abel's point of view in the title track: "When they let me out, I had a brand new identity".
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