Florida Flambeau, September 2, 1982

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Elvis Costello: Beyond rock
but anchored to something universal


Chris Metz

Elvis Costello — Imperial Bedroom. Masterpiece? I'm not so sure. Now that El has "come clean" (in the simple-minded words of Rolling Stone), it becomes somewhat easier to analyze his career (especially since Costello does it for us in several recent interviews). And in the wake of Imperial Bedroom, arguably — I say arguably — his best album — Costello's amazing spree of pop genius asserts itself into something like a five-year-plan for world domination.

But he's not angry anymore. He's learned to control that seething temper, the seeping rancor that spilled over every hard-bitten line of This Year's Model. The lover's accusations, all the guilt and revenge resolved themselves into bitter teardrops for Almost Blue, the highly underrated sortie into Nashville country which almost served as a blueprint for his next outing. He's tempered that raging Attractions' beat, too.

Imperial Bedroom is sublime. The production easily equals anything the Beatles ever did (Costello shares credit with Geoff Emrick, not coincidentally a former assistant to George Martin), weaving contrapuntal textures of sound into a seamless pop fabric. The tone is often regret, Elvis' whiny voice broadening its context to achieve an unprecedented wisdom and scope.

His songs have always borne a master's touch, but where "The Beat" and "Pump It Up" and "Chelsea" were clearly infused by an adolescent sensibility — an angry young man raging about cruel cul-de-sacs of desire, denial and betrayal, and best of all, getting even — IB's "Kid About It" or "Shabby Doll" could only be the work of a mature artist, one who examines the foibles of the people around him, but turns the focus on himself.

And those twinkling Steve Naive arrangements... heartbreaking.

Nope, Imperial Bedroom ain't kids' stuff. Like Roxy Music's Avalon, it's an adult album — keyed to trigger responses in those already saddened by experience. The argument, of course, is that rock and roll is popular because it makes us feel young. True, but Costello's craft lies well beyond rock — yet remains anchored to something steady, universal.

I wish this were a proper review, explication of lyrics, littering of bulls--t musical terms, laden with hefty socio-cultural analysis and requisite ref. to the Falklands, but it's not. I refuse to sit across from the turntable and make pithy notes — I'd rather relax and listen, let Imperial Bedroom shimmer and slip up on my senses. Used to scream and shout to Elvis, but now we got Flipper an 'X' an Gang o' Four for that. EC's moved with the time — and ahead of the trends. Who else — in the Year of Skinhead — models himself after a melange of George Jones, Chet Baker and Jerome Kern, and aims to be the next Sinatra?

Find out for yourself tonight at 8 in Gainesville. Elvis Costello and the Attractions perform at the glorious U of F space dome — the O'Connell Center, where $9.75 buys a place inside. Talk Talk — Huh? Huh? opens, some manner of dance-oriented combo from the UK, where they feed baby pop stars silicon chips and give them Bryan Ferry as a role model. (Excuse me, Phil Oakey).

Cheers.

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Florida Flambeau, September 2, 1982


Chris Metz reviews Imperial Bedroom and notes EC's appearance with The Attractions, Thursday, September 2, 1982, Gainesville, FL.

Images

1982-09-02 Florida Flambeau page 25 clipping 01.jpg
Clippings.

1982-09-02 Florida Flambeau page 25.jpg
Page scan.

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