Good news and bad news for Elvis Costello fans.
The good news is that Costello has stopped dabbling in country music.
The bad news is that he's still pretty mellow for an artist who has produced his best works when bursting at the seems with bitter, incisive personal angst.
Actually Imperial Bedroom is a pretty good album but not likely to be what his fans most want from Costello.
The record company's press release notes that this is Costello's first rock and roll album in some time. Well I think rock would have been a more accurate tag. There's just not the energy and momentum here to qualify this as rock and roll.
There's a certain amount of cleverness here and some innovation but just far too little to get excited about.
The few occasional bursts of energy serve to underline the semi-detached tone that suggests a sad series of sighs rather than the biting slices of life with which Costello once stunned his listeners.
There's a lot of vocal overdubbing frequently creating the sense of two Costello's — one calmly unfolding the main narrative and the other leading the background chorus. Unfortunately too much of the backing music becomes somewhat incidental with occasional suggestion that Costello now pictures himself more of a piano man than an angry young man.
If one listens closely to a cut like "Shabby Doll," there are some interesting things happening but when it's followed by the old-fashioned movie-theme meanderings of "The Long Honeymoon," the music becomes only interesting and entertaining when one makes a special effort to listen closely and get in tune with this new quirkiness.
It's easy to imagine that on some days, in some moods, this is probably quite a fascinating and intriguing album and some of the material — like "Man Out of Time" — is compelling any time but too much of it is too easily tuned out for most casual listening.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd like to see Costello shake off some of this musical lethargy. I can't help feeling that this material — and most of it is quite good in its own right — would be much more appealing if mixed in with some livelier cuts to offer more of a variety.
Costello shows here he can do this kind of passionless blues quite well but the question is who wants to be semi-depressed for almost an entire album?
I'm still anxiously looking forward to seeing Costello in concert again at the Civic Centre on Aug. 23, but I hope he wisely uses some of his older, more-energetic material to put these new songs in a better, more effective context.