Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, "Man Out of Time" (1982)


"Man Out of Time" is one more gorgeous mess buried between the vaporizing screams in the middle of Imperial Bedroom, an album that I recall reviewed as Elvis Costello's "Cole Porter album" (or "George Gershwin," or "Tin Pan Alley"). It was also dissed contrarian-wise by Robert Christgau in a year when it stormed to the head of the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. Maybe Christgau was right—not sure who would be willing to go full-throated on it anymore. It always struck me if anything as more Costello's shot at Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road (Parke Puterbaugh got that right in Rolling Stone)—because of the choice of producer Geoff Emerick, who engineered those Beatles albums, but also because of its ambition and how studio-focused and tricked-up it can be. It was the first Costello album that seemed to require study (and they all did for me after this). I remain suspicious of this self-training to like things—"you have to listen to it a few times, man"—but at any rate the judgment stuck. "Man Out of Time" still seems a terrific wounded cry of the soul, absolutely stunning at about the time of the title phrase, and definitely recommended for singing along. The words are typically fussy and cute: "'Cos the high heel he used to be has been ground down / And he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around," for example. It doesn't say that much and the attention to the foot-related activities is distracting and beside the point. But whatever, he gets a pass because his pop instincts remain so true. I really am not sure what this song is about, but it's obvious it comes from a profoundly felt place, one I naturally feel and respond to. That's good enough for me.


  1. There's such a wonderful majesty to the production and performance here. It seems very blatantly Dylanesque to me ("Queen Jane Approximately"- or "Tangled Up in Blue"-ish), but that's a good thing in this case and it's inscrutability might even be part of its charm. A rommate I had at the time this album was big used to always quote the line, "who's up late polishing the blade," reciting it with a demonic leer, suggesting an inherent psychosis -- and I've never forgotten that.

  2. That's a great comparison especially to "Queen Jane Approximately." To many Costello was only one more in a long line of new Dylans (and obviously he absorbed many more influences) but I get the sense with Imperial Bedroom that he was "in the zone" the same way Dylan was in 1965, just reeling it off effortlessly. Love that anecdote about your roommate!

  3. Great line. I always thought "Imperial Bedroom" was a great great CD.