Arkansas Gazette, August 15, 1982

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Latest ranks among Costello's greatest

Jim Hathaway

Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Imperial Bedroom
4½ stars (out of 5) reviews4½ stars (out of 5) reviews4½ stars (out of 5) reviews4½ stars (out of 5) reviews4½ stars (out of 5) reviews

As best as can be ascertained, there is no truth to the rumor that Imperial Bedroom prompted the recent intrusion on Queen Elizabeth II's sleeping quarters.

But such wonderfully British behavior would fit right in with the portraits of love-twisted souls Elvis Costello draws with care and passion on his latest album. Alternately joyous and desperate, Costello's characters make up the facets of a glorious royal jewel, skillfully polished by the dark prince of contemporary songwriters.

Imperial Bedroom is easily as good as 1980's Get Happy, the last really great Costello album. And in some ways the new album is very similar to Get Happy, holding fast to one concept and maintaining a constant tone throughout. But where Get Happy seethed and writhed with hot American rhythm, Imperial Bedroom flows and swirls with British aplomb.

This album is so smooth it can easily slide right by on first listening, and it isn't until one starts to concentrate on the combination of melody and lyrics that its depth becomes apparent. Every song is about some aspect of love: A spatting couple in "Tears Before Bedtime"; a lonesome wife realizing her husband is cheating in "The Long Honeymoon"; a pubescent girl chasing an older man in "You Little Fool"; an awkward lover finding his tongue in "Human Hands." The songs are distinct and can stand alone, but they also meld together, each melody harmonious with the others, each theme dovetailing with the next in a crazy-quilt fashion.

Take, for instance, the transition from the elderly man being deceived in "Pidgin English" to the young girl deluding herself in "You Little Fool." In the first: "There's a young girl with her old man who's too sick to mention, she'll be turning twenty-seven as she draws her widow's pension." In the second: "She surrounds his name with hearts and flowers, talks on the telephone for hours and hours, but with a bird in his hand and two on a string, the words of love have an imitation ring." A slight twist of the roles, but the problem remains.

Even the way Costello has printed his lyrics — a first for him — follows this idea of sliding from one song to the next. All of the lyrics are printed in one, long run-on sentence. No punctuation, not even any space to denote where one song starts and the other begins. But the relative difficulty of reading the lyrics does not diminish the fact that these are some of Costello's finest. That's saying a lot, since he's currently without peer as a lyricist.

Once the gloss of unity has been penetrated, the songs start to stand out, glittering individually. "Beyond Belief," leading off the album like a prologue, starts out quickly but quietly, Costello's intricate staccato rhymes building in pitch until the final release of the ending hook — "I come to you beyond belief." Wedged between the Bruce Springsteen-like ballad, "The Long Honeymoon," and the torch song, "Almost Blue," "Man Out of Time" begins with screaming rock guitar madness that switches suddenly to a melodic, if biting, song that contains one of the best hooks on the album, and then startlingly switches back to the flailing guitars.

And then there's "Almost Blue." What a tender, clever, touching song. Mark this down. When Costello is 50, somebody (maybe even EC himself) will be singing this song as a classic in a Las Vegas show. Costello puts on his best Mel Tormé song-stylist outfit for this one, crooning and caressing the melody, lovingly enunciating the lyrics: "Almost blue, almost doing things we used to do, there's a girl here and she's almost you." The young Frank Sinatra would have turned this into a giant Top Ten hit, and even Ol' Blue Eyes might find it a remarkable song for one of the original new wave punks to have written.

There's no way to pick a best song from Imperial Bedroom. There might be a couple not as great as the rest — "...And In Every Home" and "The Loved Ones" — but the remaining tunes all hit the mark so perfectly that no song can eclipse the others. "Human Hands" ought to be played on the radio twice an hour, with its great opening line — "I've been talking to the wall and it's been answering me, O darling how I miss you" — and it's humming hook — "Whenever I put my foot in my mouth and you begin to doubt that it's you that I'm dreaming about, do I have to draw you a diagram? All I ever want is just to fall into your human hands." But then "Boy With a Problem" ought to be in the Top 40, as well, with great lyrics (provided by Chris Difford of Squeeze) wrapped around a really meaty melody.

And just as "Beyond Belief" serves as a prologue to Imperial Bedroom, "Town Cryer" ends the album as an epilogue. "I'm the town cryer and everybody knows, I'm a little down with a lifetime to go." A character just like everyone else on this album — a little bit down, a little bit hurt by love, but determined to see it through.

That determination is what makes this album different, and maybe better, than Costello's other efforts. No longer do Costello's personas find a bitter end of the world when love dies; instead they carry on, disarming strangers in their bedroom with cigarettes and polite conversation.

Tags: Imperial BedroomThe AttractionsGet Happy!!Tears Before BedtimeThe Long HoneymoonYou Little FoolHuman HandsPidgin EnglishBeyond BeliefBruce SpringsteenAlmost BlueMan Out Of TimeMel TorméFrank SinatraAnd In Every HomeThe Loved OnesBoy With A ProblemChris DiffordSqueezeTown Cryer

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Arkansas Gazette, August 15, 1982

Jim Hathaway reviews Imperial Bedroom.


1982-08-15 Arkansas Gazette page 5D clipping 01.jpg

Page scan.
1982-08-15 Arkansas Gazette page 5D.jpg


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