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Everything old is new (wave) again

Costello, Lloyd, Verlaine move on; The Clean's cheap thrills

In the five years following his 1977 debut, Elvis Costello had been labeled the spokesman of the "new wave" and had indulged in the boozing-and-broads lifestyle endemic to the occupation. At the ripe old age of 28, Costello said he'd had enough, and he was ready to grow up a little. His newfound maturity bloomed into unprecedented musical sophistication of 1982's Imperial Bedroom.

Twenty years later, Imperial Bedroom is still hailed by some as Costello's best work, and the album's real significance (and achievement) becomes even clearer on Rhino's expanded version. A 23-track bonus CD of demos and outtakes elucidates Costello's creative process. The demos, with their variations in lyrics and arrangements, provide some insight into the album's alchemy.

The official version of "Man Out of Time" combines the hard-rocking energy of one earlier take with the angst of another. And Costello's liner notes disclose that he wrote "Kid About It" on the morning after John Lennon's assassination, which helps give the song — and the darker, lower vocals on its demo — a new relevance.

And who knew Costello, long hailed as a master wordsmith, was an effective self-editor as well? In "Human Hands," an original line ("whenever the money runs out and the drugs wear off") becomes the more personal, and more appropriate, "whenever I put my foot in my mouth and you begin to doubt."

That Imperial Bedroom has so effectively stood the test of time constitutes a major achievement, and the reissue's additional material makes the album's intricate craftwork all the more apparent.
?-- James Kelly

As one of the first New York City punk bands, Television was an anomaly among its peers. The product of accomplished musicians, the group's sound bore little resemblance to the aggressive, snarling DIY attack of the Ramones and the Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads' skewed prep funk or Blondie's retro pop. Instead, guitarists Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine's intertwined leads created a propulsive yin yang, indebted as much to the Allman Brothers as British prog-rock.

But by 1978, after two influential albums that set the stage for the post-punk movement, the clashing egos of Lloyd and Verlaine put an untimely end to the promising group. Both quickly released solo projects, which are now on CD for the first time, care of Collector's Choice.

Lloyd's Alchemy takes a subtle course. By sacrificing TV's tense, terse stabs for a more comforting jangly strum, he creates gauzy Byrds-like pop while sublimating solos to short, twangy bursts. Lloyd's keening, unpolished vocals are unexpectedly charming, and his predominantly lovelorn lyrics remain straightforward but effective. The album remains thoroughly enjoyable even as its lightness refutes Television's gnarly clatter.

By contrast, Verlaine's self-titled disc is a continuation of Television's more idiosyncratic direction. Overdubbing creates the impression of multiple clanging guitars, with tracks like "Mr. Bingo" and the novelty "Yonki Time" articulating a less claustrophobic mood. But there's no mistaking Verlaine's strained vocals, stream-of consciousness lyrics, brittle leads and knack for a clipped hook. Concise, almost hummable tracks such as "Red Leaves" offer an indication of where Television might have gone. And the fluttering, sharp spurts of crisp, stinging treble notes on "Breakin' In My Heart" reverberate with "Marquee Moon"-ish intensity. Like a nightmarish dream you don't want to end, it still produces chills 22 years later.
?-- Hal Horowitz

It's become awfully difficult to listen to the success stories of straight-outta-nowhere pop phenoms like Avril Lavigne and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and not detect a whiff of prefabrication. As much as we may be dying to buy into the whole dollar-and-a-dream mythology, the dictum that buys bling and feeds checking accounts is pretty much the same as it ever was: It's not who you are, it's who you know.

By contrast, seminal New Zealand pop trio The Clean netted a string of chart successes without even knowing a full battery of chords. In 1981, brothers Hamish and David Kilgour and bassist Robert Scott each threw in $20 to record the jittery single "Tally-Ho!" which skyrocketed up the Top 20 in their native country and helped to position the Flying Nun label as the prime mover in the burgeoning New Zealand pop scene. The new two-disc Anthology (Merge) swoops up The Clean's essential material, revealing the trio's no-fi songwriting prowess.

Rather than embellishing the melodies, The Clean seems hell-bent on removing instruments, preserving only the barest beams to give the songs structure and shape. As a result, the music achieves a sort of Spartan perfection, providing maximum melody with only a fraction of the accoutrements.
?--J. Edward Keyes