Under Review: Graham Parker – Imaginary Television

Dear GP,

Please take a break from songwriting for a while.  Okay, I know that sounds like a rather drastic request, given that you’ve written some incredibly catchy and clever songs in your decades-long career, but I think a writing hiatus would do you good.  Ever since your commercial peak with Squeezing Out Sparks (still one of my favorite records), your output has been consistent in frequency, if not quality.  Only a few years ago, you released two fantastic albums, the roots-y Your Country and the spiky collaboration with The Figgs, Songs Of No Consequence.  Those albums showed that not only could you still make some great, memorable rock n’ roll, but that you’d been teasing us by over saturating the market with less impressive albums.  Just because you’ve been constantly likened to Elvis Costello doesn’t mean that you need to emulate his biggest fault: not knowing when to hold yourself back from releasing anything short of a masterpiece.  However, despite all that reason, you’ve released Imaginary Television.

Don’t get me wrong, the album’s not that bad, it’s just not nearly up to the standards you’ve shown you can still adhere to.  Although your voice has grown a little weary with time, your trademark sneer is still plenty strong throughout the new songs, and your knack for melody remains sharp (which makes me wonder why you co-opted someone else’s tune for “It’s My Party (But I Won’t Cry)”).  It’s your songwriting that has grown limp, directionless and bland.  I even can’t say that any of the songs on the album jumped out at me, as much as I wanted to love this album. I know you love covers, too, but even your take on “More Questions Than Answers,” which comes late in Imaginary Television, is hardly more than noticeable.  Many of the new originals suffer from the same disease that another accomplished songwriter, T-Bone Burnett, seemed to catch in his recent career: aiming for poignant statement and instead achieving predictable slogans.  One of your strengths is contrasting wordy verses with memorable, hooky choruses.  Classics like “Mercury Poisoning” and “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” are fine examples of this balance.  Lately, however, you’ve constructed complicated and confounding songs and forgetting to include a memorable refrain.  As songs like “Broken Skin” and “Always Greener” wander by, nothing makes a lasting impression.  This should not be.

There is a silver lining, though, and on Imaginary Television, it comes in the form of the final song, “1st Responder.”  This is the kind of song that should make up the majority of your albums.  It’s a whip-smart, melodic and catchy tune that, while it might not compare to “Heat Treatment” or “Stupefaction,” it is a gem of your recent career.  Unlike some of your contemporaries, Graham, you’ve exhibited the kind of restless spirit that is admirable for someone who’s been in the business as long as you have.  Keep on rockin’ in concert, playing your best-loved songs to those who’ve stuck with you all these years.  But please, for the sake of upholding a terrific career, save your new songs until you have something groundbreaking to offer.

Your pal,


~ by E. on March 19, 2010.

8 Responses to “Under Review: Graham Parker – Imaginary Television”

  1. Uh, Mr. Clueless: “More Questions Than Answers” was not written by Graham Parker. It’s a Johnny Nash song.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ll amend my review. Clearly only a clueless person would post about such obvious, mainstream music.

  2. In reference to the first commentor: ahhh, the anonimity of the internet. Everyone’s a tough guy smartass.

    Another great review presented in an interesting format.

  3. I thought this was a poor review. There are precious few who have been as consistently good as Graham Parker over a 30 + year period. To state or imply that Parker’s quality is inconsistent is profoundly ignorant. The man’s last album “Don’t Tell Columbus” from 2007 is one of the great albums of the 21st century. You didn’t even mention that album when talking about his recent work. Graham Parker’s new album “Imaginary Television” is a worthy addition to his catalog. It’s a great intelligent melodic album by someone who is still at the top of his game. Any critic who focuses mostly on Parker’s work from over 30 years ago is not a critic who really knows much about Graham Parker. I agree with you that “1st Responder” is a great song. But while I think it’s a great song, I also think it’s the weakest song on “Imaginary Television”.

    • Thanks for your comment. By no means do I consider myself the final authority on any of the music I talk about. I’ve written about bands and albums that I like, dislike, wished I liked, and everything in between. If you disagree, that’s fine. I would hope you’d offer me the same generosity.

  4. Mr tough guy smart ass here. My comment seemed harsh only because the reviewer made Parker’s songwriting the centerpiece of the article and yet managed to choose the one song that was not written by him as “proof” that his songwriting craft has degenerated. I thought it was hilarious.

  5. Dear E,

    Please take a break from writing forever. Pal.


    • Regardless of what I think of your new album, I still consider myself a fan and, thus, think this comment is pretty righteous. (assuming this really is GP and not some other, less-cool person)

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