After last year's excursion to Nashville to re-interpret Country standards, Costello returns to his own songs and his own style — but with some modifications. Costello has always dealt in emotion and intensity, using (like Dylan at his best) a torrent of words and a jumble of clever, memorable phrases, to achieve his effect. In country music, of course, the same degree of intensity is often achieved by the exactly opposite method — Country lyrics are often powerful because of their no-nonsense stark simplicity. Those who expected Costello to simplify his lyrics after the Nashville experience are proved wrong — the lyrics are splattered all over an infuriatingly difficult to read inner sleeve, and contain the now-expected vicious dissections of the sad or seedy personal lives of the subjects of his songs. "He wants to be a fancy man but he's nothing but a nancy boy, he's all pride and no joy" is typical of the mood.
What is different, though, is the production and Costello's approach to the material Geoff Emerick, the former Beatles engineer, is responsible, and he's given the songs a relaxed, laid-back and sometimes elaborate setting. The band are now in the background. instead of bursting out all around him, and keyboards and tinkling piano predominate. There are also some cleverly arranged, atmospheric passages, as on "The Long Honeymoon," one of the best tracks on the album, where a tale of feared infidelity is treated with piano, moody accordion, and Shadows-like twanging guitar. The far more elaborate "...And In Every Home" is almost given a Beatles Sergeant Pepper treatment, with full orchestration, trumpets and plucked strings.
Costello himself sings, and almost croons, gently through it all, sounding more relaxed than ever. The anguish is still there in the lyrics, but he sounds detached from his subject matter, with little of the old urgency and desperation. Imperial Bedroom is an excellent and intriguing album, and should stand up to as much repeated listening as Trust, but I hope it doesn't show Costello getting too relaxed about his art.