Breakfast Blend: Elvis Costello on Letterman 1982

The Attractions were touring supporting Imperial Bedroom, the album that Columbia promoted with the headline, Masterpiece?

I saw the band on the pier by the Intrepid, and then got a call from my friend Robin. Her neighbor was a writer on the Letterman show, and she had tickets to see them in the studio on Letterman’s show. We went. You can see them here. Thanks Robin.

The reason I landed on this is I’ve been playing that album a lot lately. I hadn’t revisited it for years, partly because of that Masterpiece? dodge. The weird overselling and the record’s effete literary musicality caused a problem. You can’t say you love this record without saying you’re some king of fancy boy. Unless you’re brave.

I love this record. The Attractions were a fantastic band, and the songs and arrangements on this elpee push them to create lively melodic music that can only, sometimes, be called Beatles-esque.

But the record really doesn’t rely on pretension. This isn’t XTC. There’s lots of air and delicious melody in the arrangements. Beatles engineer Geoff Emmerich produces this one, and the sound is precise and rich, full of detail, but each layer adds nuance, not complexity. This is art rock that is art, but doesn’t sacrifice the straight forward perspective of rock, even if the tunes mostly rock only in spurts.

And then there are Costello’s words. He’s a writer of too many words, sometimes, but when they’re pared back, as they actually often are, especially on Imperial Bedroom, he’s also a writer of uncompromising personal directness and vividness. The two songs on this Letterman clip are lyrically bold and personally revealing.

And this live version of Beyond Belief shows the rock heart at the core of Imperial Bedroom.

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