Due to the almost startlingly diverse nature of the songs on this record, and my conscious efforts to resist overpraising a guy who I think is the best composer in popular music, I was not overwhelmed by this effort at first. But I underestimated Armed Forces, too, and failed to give Trust its full due when, in restrospect, those albums have proven more durable than his others.
All overt connections to rock 'n' roll have been severed here, although beat remains an essential ingredient in Costello's multi-layered sound. More important, however, is the way his observations on relationships are sharpened by his intricate melodies. Nick Lowe is no longer producing (Geoff Emerick makes the suggestions on this disc), which leaves Elvis free to veer off the familiar paths of new wave, power pop, country and Motown and into his own jungle of aural ideas.
What comes out, not surprisingly, is a collection of neo-standards — songs that would sound perfect in new wave supper clubs, if such establishments existed. Let Talking Heads or Human League or Soft Cell play the dance music — Elvis wants to croon to the melancholy stragglers at 3 a.m. Side two of Imperial Bedroom is the most lush, fully developed side of music to be released in the 1980s — from "The Loved Ones," a defensive lament about family problems, to "Town Cryer," a heartbreakingly professional piece of ballad writing, there is just not a flaw to be found. Toss in the pearls "Tears Before Bedtime," "Man Out of Time" and "Almost Blue" from side one, and you have an album that might become the pinnacle of a remarkable career — except that Costello always seems capable of topping himself.