Can the Alejandro Escovedo who couched his earlier songs in a fog of romantic imagery be the same one spelling things out on the autobiographical Real Animal (Back Porch/Manhattan)? The San Antonio–born singer, an inveterate rocker who writes tender ballads like “Slow Down,” has always been a study in contradictions. A near-fatal bout with hepatitis C in 2002 hardly slowed him down, but Escovedo has found a new lust for life—a life his latest album now celebrates. The conceit may be self-serving, yet Escovedo and writing partner Chuck Prophet (whose stylistic impact is clear), along with producer Tony Visconti (whose work with David Bowie and T. Rex influenced a younger Escovedo), have made what is first and foremost a thrilling rock record. With a richer, glossier sound, the music soars. Pay close attention, though, and there they are: songs about family and former bands, rampant Iggy Pop worship, and tales of regret fused with furious rave-ups. Maudlin? Never. Disjointed? Maybe, but as an ironic Escovedo himself notes in “Chelsea Hotel ’78,” it somehow all makes perfect sense.