When music critics look back on the popular song form of the 20th Century, they will surely place Elvis Costello (nee Declan MacManus) in the pantheon with such other masters as John Lennon, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Rodgers and Hart.
In the last five years the bespectacled, mousey-looking Costello has been a whirlwind of activity, penning more than 90 tunes, most of them first-rate, for six or seven highly-charged LPs. Now, with Imperial Bedroom, he's released a recording that is at once a bonafide masterpiece — and a promise of even greater achievement for the years ahead.
On first listen Imperial Bedroom is almost too much to take; it's such an embarrassment of riches, lyrically, melodically and arrangement-wise. But after seven or eight spins of its 15 songs, the power, scope and cohesiveness of the recording come through. Long-time devotees of Costello may be miffed at Bedroom's lack of overt political material, a la "Less Than Zero" and "Goon Squad," but this is unsophisticated nitpicking. Bedroom, in fact, is rife with political content — sexual politics, family politics ("The Loved Ones," "You Little Fool"), class politics ("Man Out of Time"), the politics of id versus super-ego, all couched in some of the pithiest, most pun-infested language ever to infect pop music.
Bedroom is further distinguished by a broad sonic palette, from the Baroque-style counterpoint of "And in Every Home" to the accordion flourishes in "The Long Honeymoon" and the supper-club balladry of "Almost Blue." Add Costello's strongest singing ever and — to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix — you'll never want to hear REO Speedwagon or Rush music again.
Bedroom is the imperial measurement by which all other pop recordings will be judged this year.