The first half of the 80's were a very tumultuous period for Elvis Costello both musically and personally. He keeps the one-album-a-year pace here with the addition of a bonus covers record released in 1981. Although he kept the pace, this period was full of ups and downs and that is evident in the music.
I have outlined the releases from this era below. Please note what I deem to be the Essential releases.
1980 – Get Happy!!
Initial attempts at recording a follow up to Armed Forces failed, which led the band to try something different. Classic soul songs were used as inspiration to much success. This release sees yet another label switch, this time to F-Beat. The album features tons of great songs, and twenty tracks in all. Essential
1981 – Trust
On this record the songs are moodier and the material is more varied than past releases. Costello had just released four full length albums in three and a half years, but the great songs just kept on coming. This album would be the last appearance of Costello's original production team of Roger Bechiran and Nick Lowe. Essential
1981 – Almost Blue
Having tired of singing and writing his own songs, Elvis retreated to one of his greatest loves… country music. Costello's first album made up of strictly covers which was half-heartedly produced by legendary country music producer Billy Sherrill. The combination didn't gel and the album unfortunately falls flat. The second album released in 1981.
1982 – Imperial Bedroom
With the original titles Music To Stop Clocks, then This Is A Revolution of The Mind, Elvis and band intended to go big. This time produced by studio vet and wizard Geoff Emerick who learned his craft working with The Beatles. There was a lot of problems going on during the recording of the album but the band persevered. What they ended up with was the most emotionally and musically sophisticated album of their career. Essential
1983 – Punch The Clock
Produced by British New Wave hit makers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were sought out to try and capture a more commercial sound as Costello was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his album sales. The album is what you would expect, a glossy sometimes cheesy representation of the band's sound. There are still a few great songs despite all the horns and female backup singers.
1984 – Goodbye Cruel World
Once again produced by Langer and Winstanley, which is surprising when you consider how conflicted Elvis was during the recording of the previous record. The process was once again a challenge and very laborious. What you end up with is two good songs out of a very weak record overall. At the time of this record Elvis was nearing the end of his marriage to Mary, his love affair with Bebe, and his work with the Attractions (at least exclusively).