Albums You Might Like: The Delivery Man by Elvis Costello and the Imposters

Photo credit: Sean Rowe, Flickr Creative Commons

Can you imagine a better start to a career than Elvis Costello’s? His first five albums: My Aim is True, This Years’ Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy, Trust. Wow. After that, he released Imperial Bedroom and Blood and Chocolate, both of which had their moments. But then, you have to weave in and out of his albums. There was always a song here or there that was great — “Veronica”, “20% Amnesia”, “The Other Side of Summer” — but you had to pick through them through the other sluggish songs (thank God for iTunes and Spotify to build your own Elvis Costello’s greatest singles collection.)

However, about 10 years ago, Costello released The Delivery Man with his Imposters band. It was a complete return to form to his early albums. The album was supposed to be a concept album about a southern delivery man and his affairs with three separate women, but don’t let that scare you from listening. Just enjoy the tracks on their own and dig into the loose band as they dig into the tracks with pounding piano, echoey, distorted guitar and slippery drum beats. The Imposters may not be the Attractions, but they really work here with a really simple production. As much as I love Mitchell Froom as a producer, his production work in the ‘90s dragged Costello down. Here, Costello and his band are set free.

The kick-off song, “Button My Lip”, is a rollicking blues-inspired tune. It’s cool to listen to Costello howl on this song. The first single, the catchy, surf-rock-riff-laden “Monkey to Man”, describes mankind’s hubris. And “Bedlam” is a taught, energetic rocker teeming with a bizarre keyboard solo while his lyrics use religious symbolism to tell the story of being an outcast on the road. Where Costello was always edgy and visceral on his first albums, he’s older and wiser here. He’s much more assured of how to tackle these songs. Costello always has great lyrics, but in songs like bedlam, he punches them here with great fervor and release:

And I might recite a small prayer
If I ever said them I lay down on an iron frame
And found myself in bedlam
I wish that I could take something for drowning out the noise
Wailing echoes down the corridors

Having listened to this album for years, I didn’t really dig into a potential story until much later. Reading the lyrics only gives hints of a narrative. But perhaps it’s better to just take it song by song and keep it loose. When I made my Elvis Costello hits list, I kept The Delivery Man off so that I can keep the album as a whole set in my mind.