Few artists have evolved as much as Costello since he appeared in 1977 as a supercilious wunderkind who twisted strands of pop, reggae and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll around stinging lyrics. Stalking the protagonists of his songs like an animal trainer with a bullwhip, he was coldhearted and utterly fascinating. With his Motown-tinged fourth album, Get Happy!!, in 1980, Elvis began to let go of anger and cry out for (as one song title put it) Human Touch. Imperial Bedroom, his eighth album, reaches a new plateau. Elvis' voice has turned lustrous, expressive and even tender. As ever, vivid images abound in his lyrics ("The cat's out of the bag but won't show his claws,' he writes in Shabby Doll). But for the first time they include stretches of intriguing narrative. Of a wife who slowly puts two and two together, in The Long Honeymoon: "If he isn't in by ten, she'll call up her best friend/Why doesn't he come home? Why does her friend's phone keep on ringing?" Still grounded in rock, Costello's songwriting is reaching toward a more classic, theatrical ideal. All these elements and the most florid melodic sense in pop music combine to make Imperial Bedroom Elvis' most challenging effort yet. His versatile keyboard player, Steve Nieve, who did the orchestrations, contributes to the album's impressive heft and texture.