It’s not necessary to be aware of the thought process behind Graham Parker’s Imaginary Television to appreciate the rare combination of immediacy and understatement that permeates its material and musicianship. But knowing the story behind the album’s concept elevates the author’s acerbic commentary on the television medium (and the culture at large it reflects) while also reaffirming the record album as a potent means of making a statement.
Imaginary Television grew out of failed commissions to write themes songs for potential TV series, so Parker, a writer of fiction in the past (see Carp Fishing on Valium), then created his own story lines. In doing so he constructed an effective framework for the kind of social criticism, contained in "Weather Report" and "You’re Not Where You think You Are," that has so often populated his recent solo work. As a result, Imaginary Television isn’t so openly personal statement as its predecessor, Don’t Tell Columbus, but there are tunes here, such as "Bring Me A Heart Again," that work as direct expressions of the author’s emotions.
As such they transcend the concept of the album, but that’s essentially true of all the songs contained within Imaginary Television. Even the surreal scenario of "1st Responder" stands on its own terms, which may be the highest compliment to give the components of such a project. Ever the contrarian (albeit a fairly good-natured one), Parker abhors literal-mindedness and thus refuses to offer mindless ditties or sing-song throwaways the likes of which usually comprise a theme song. Rather he chooses to compose tunes that invite sing-alongs even as he deals with topics provocative enough that his slightly detached approach magnifies his concerns and his point of view (on alienation from society in "You’re Not Where You think You Are" and the mixed blessing of technological progress on "Always Greener").
Working as co-producer, GP counterbalances the pointed insights in the songs with a relaxed accompaniment to his own low-key performances. Warm electric guitar flows alongside organ, but of which glide above the softly insistent rhythm work of "Broken Skin" which, like "Head on Straight," sounds like the musicians are playing live in very close proximity. Not much extensive improvisation occurs though, so many of the eleven cuts, including "See Things My Way," hover near the two minute mark and, as a result, the CD unfortunately clocks in at just over thirty-five minutes; such an abbreviated playing time suggests some incidental music, in keeping with the main idea of Imaginary Television, might’ve been in order.
But that might also be overstating the obvious as much as the inclusion of the song lyrics inside the booklet enclosed with this colorful digipak (each tune has a plot line instead). That, in turn, would’ve undermined the keen intelligence that otherwise permeates this work of Graham Parker.