Elvis Costello is, at 27, the most prodigiously talented singer-songwriter since the team of Lennon-McCartney, and his new album Imperial Bedroom (Columbia), deserves in every way to be compared with their finest work.
Costello is older now, less vitriolic, more comfortable with the wide traditions of pop, and aware of studio craft. The 15 songs that make up Imperial Bedroom reflect that maturity with lyrical and stylistic dexterity, and the same unflinching honesty in examining relationships that we expect from the only new wave survivor who really matters.
How to pick favorites from an album that — with Costello's increasing use of horns, strings, and layered production (from ex-Beatle engineer Geoff Emerick) — reveals so much new with every listening?
Perhaps "Almost Blue" ("there's a girl here and she's almost you / almost") a classic ballad with Costello at his vocal duskiest.
Or "You Little Fool," sad, bitter and compassionate all at once, with Elvis paying sincere nasal respect to Lennon — (check the "I'm So Tired"-ness on the lines "I suppose that you're going to stay all night") — and Revolver, with harpsichord, reversed tape loops, and long fade out.
But there's also "Human Hands" ("I'm just the mere shadow of my former selfishness"), the anthemic pop and primal screaming of "Man Out Of Time," or the velvet vibrato vocals on "Kid About It."
Take your pick. Well over 50 minutes of music, with every second of it distinguished by Elvis' expanding musical vocabulary, and by The Attractions, who are unquestionably the finest back-up trio working in pop today.