Elvis Costello is a genius. He combined the classic rock nerd look of Buddy Holly with the edgy, new wave postpunk of the late ’70s, brilliant lyricism, and a remarkable ability to write hooks.
Elvis Costello is with a band called The Imposters now, and they’ve got a new album that makes great use of the classic Elvis Costello sound–a sound he had gotten away from for a while.
I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of E.C.
And if you’re not, here’s a ranking of his best 10 albums…
10. Blood and Chocolate (1986). Still a good album, but some of the unevenness of the writing makes it significantly less good than even the 9th album on this list. Killer songs include I Hope You’re Happy Now and I Want You.
9. Trust (1981). Simply put: A collection of really really good songs produced by Nick Lowe. Standouts include Clubland, Watch Your Step, Shot With His Own Gun, and From a Whisper to a Scream.
8. The Juliet Letters (with the Brodsky Quartet) (1993). Critics loved this album, but I can accept that a lot of fans didn’t. It’s a complete break from his past. A classical song sequence based on letters written by a professor of Shakespearian literature. But today, when genre-busting music has become the norm, it can be looked at and appreciated as a flash of brilliance in an already brilliant career.
7. Almost Blue (1981). I doubt many people would put this as a top 10 for Costello, given that it is an all-covers album by an artist known best for his lyricism, but I love this record. Costello’s vocal style is unique, for sure, but it gives a completely different tone to classics by Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and others.
6. Get Happy! (1980). After a string of great albums, each distinct from the other, Costello got the white boy soul bug and made 20 short songs heavily (heavily!) influenced by the Motown sound. Supposedly, he recorded the album to atone for using the “N” word in an argument with Stephen Stills.
Key tracks: High Fidelity, I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down (Sam and Dave cover).
5. King of America (1986). KoA doesn’t have as many (or even any) beloved songs or big hits, but track-for-track it is easily one of Elvis’ best albums. Recorded with T-Bone Burnett, it is the closest Elvis ever got to Americana.
4. Imperial Bedroom (1981). Piano-driven collection of terrific ballads like Man Out of Time, Beyond Belief, and the “I can’t believe he wrote this and it’s not a standard!” song, Almost Blue. That last song was so good, Elvis used it to name his next album–a collection of traditional country covers–on which Almost Blue did not appear.
3. This Year’s Model (1978). His first album with The Attractions is excellent. It starts with “No Action” and doesn’t let up until it’s over, concluding with “Night Rally.” And along the way there’s Pump it Up,”(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea, Pump It Up, The Beat…Nearly every song is unforgettable, and those few that aren’t are still fantastic.
2. Armed Forces (1979). For his third album, Elvis got explicitly and deeply political. Oliver’s Army. Goon Squad. Green Shirt. Two Little Hitlers. It’s excellent. And the more typical Costello songs, i.e., the intellectual analysis of relationships, are well represented by Accidents Will Happen and Party Girl. It was a very close call whether to make this #1 or #2.
1. My Aim is True (1977). His amazing debut, produced by Nick Lowe, is one of the best albums ever made. There are some of his most unforgettable hits here (Allison, (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, and Less Than Zero) and some really fantastic deeper cuts (Mystery Dance, Waiting for the End of the World). Every song is a winner. And for us Americans, Watching the Detectives was a bonus track on the U.S. release.