Elvis Costello teamed with famed Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and made this gorgeous, nuanced and deceivingly optimistic album in 1982. The singer/songwriter had grown handsomely into his croon by then (check out “Little Savage” and the heart-tugging “Man Out of Time”), and the songs, many composed on piano, show breathtaking range, both lyrically (the melancholy “Kid About It” moves like good fiction) and musically (the bedroom-eyed jazz of “Almost Blue”; the baroque pop of “You Little Fool”). Each tune unfurls in its own kind of beauty.
Elvis Costello’s third album is fueled by wonderfully harnessed emotions like anger (“Chemistry Class”), love (“Two Little Hitlers”), and paranoia (“Goon Squad”). Sing-song hooks, elaborate metaphors (using war for love), and dense musical passages twirl around like carnival rides (check the waltzy “Sunday’s Best”) so it sometimes sounds unusually, and blissfully, claustrophobic. “Oliver’s Army” is the only power-pop smash ever written about militaries stocked with impoverished boys, and the unironic, Nick Lowe-penned powerhouse “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding” simply soars.
Elvis Costello was quickly developing into one of rock’s best songwriters when his second album dropped in 1978. This taut mix of accelerating melodies and wry, narrative-driven lyrics is supported by a punchy musical foundation from his then-new backing trio The Attractions. Droll themes veer from neo-Nazi stupidity (“Night Rally”) to romantic ennui (“No Action”) to condemnations of commercialized airwaves (“Radio Radio”), and the soulfully tender “Little Triggers” defines heartbreak like Burt Bacharach. Pub-rock legend Nick Lowe provides just enough production polish to slightly smooth jagged punk edges.