Elvis Costello is now a balladeer.
This comes as no surprise to anyone of the few who bought his last studio LP, Almost Blue. Elvis has cooled his act, evidenced by the calm, polite stance he struck in last month's Rolling Stone magazine cover story.
It's a sign of the times. Once we had something called the New Wave. This was composed mainly of groups that denied any affiliation with this so-called movement.
All of these groups were angry. The Sex Pistols were irate, Graham Parker was perturbed, and Joe Jackson was quite miffed. Elvis was so angry, he wrote a song called "I'm Not Angry."
The qualities that made these groups musically important were their rawness, energy and innocence — the embodiment of rock 'n' roll. But once you learn the ropes, you look for new ways to tie and untie them.
The overwhelming feeling that struck me was the passage of time. Will we be listening to the crooning of Costello and Joe Jackson as our parents listen to Sinatra and Streisand? The maturity of our rock 'n' roll heroes may send us into an early middle age.
Notwithstanding, Imperial Bedroom is a strong LP and it still has some rock 'n' roll. It focuses on Elvis using his vocal range to exacting standards. Elvis' myriad of styles are deeply entrenched with respectful evocations in the rock and roll tradition. Each twist and turn borrows from traditional styles resulting in a rock of all ages sound.
Perhaps the strongest synthesis of the new Elvis and the old Elvis is "Beyond Belief." There is enough real heart and soul to balance the studio gyrations. It also operates as a good summation of growing up in the rough and tumble world of pop music.
So. instead of recreating the standard of the rock 'n' roller gone to fame, fortune and drugs. Elvis and others are creating a new cliche, steeped in their own musical evolution and longevity.
Watching the calendar pages flip may not be the best way to create hard-edged rock, but Elvis legitimates himself strongly with his musical sense in Imperial Bedroom.