Elvis Costello fans have come to expect the unexpected, and his new album, Imperial Bedroom, is full of the lyrical and musical twists that have kept him consistently fresh and unique as a writer and artist.
The album contains 15 songs in a variety of styles — waltzes, shuffles, ballads (including "Almost Blue," the title of Costello's country album).
They show Costello as a talented, versatile pop songwriter, which no one who saw his debut on Saturday Night Live five years ago would have ever expected. At that time he was a better-than-average, strange-looking New Wave artist whose music might be described as Buddy Holly with a bite.
On Imperial Bedroom, the bite is gone instrumentally (though not from the lyrics) meaning that Costello and his band, the Attractions, don't play everything as hard as they used to. When they play a waltz, for instance, they embellish a waltz style rather than impose rock music on the style. The result is unique.
Costello is unique. He has become such a one-of-a-kind that even a term as broad and general as "rock artist" doesn't fit him.
Imperial Bedroom will probably not change Costello's moderate album sales figures and total lack of radio airplay, but it should help bring him more recognition as one of, possibly the, most important artist of this time.
Costello includes an interesting lyric sheet with this album. All words are in capital letters with no punctuation or indention whatsoever. It works surprisingly well, allowing a listener to check on a lyric that may not have been understood, but making it impossible to read along as Costello is singing, i.e. the listener is forced to listen.