The front cover of Elvis Costello's new album, Imperial Bedroom, features an abstract painting of Sal Forlenza's Snakecharmer & Reclining Octopus, indicative of the abstract music the lp contains.
Costello's seventh outing is not as lucky as the number suggests. The album has not dented the charts and doesn't look like it will. Costello has once again tried to experiment with new types of music that do not seem to please his fans. Imperial Bedroom can be described as a "hit-and-miss" album, containing some very good songs, but wounded by Costello's thirst for slow, drawn-out melodies.
The songs on the album that fail feature just two instruments, piano and bass. Costello tries for a night-club effect that just doesn't fit with his usual style. Songs don't flow melodically, yet they contain subject matter, such as broken love and romantic depression, that Costello has treated in previous recordings. Where Costello once sang with a vengeance, these songs now contain sadness and regret.
Many of the songs sound like repercussions of Costello's last album, Almost Blue, which was all country and western music. "The Long Honeymoon" is a wedding song, complete with an accordion and a calypso beat, with Costello sounding like one of the "crooners" of the early '40s. "Kids About It" has some good echo effects, but seems to follow the same pattern. Other songs, such as "A Boy With A Problem" and "Town Crier," come off as downright depressing.
Although Costello seems to miss with some songs, the rest are very good. If he had devoted more time to the nine good songs on the album, it could have come off as a classic similar to Armed Forces and This Year's Model. But once again, Costello has squeezed 15 songs on the bum. He has also changed producers: Geoff Emerick was responsible for Costello's latest venture and the absence of Nick Lowe can be heard throughout.
"Beyond Belief," an offbeat number that displays Costello's wide vocal range, has been getting most of the airplay on the radio. "Tears Before Bedtime" and "Pidgeon English" both contain background vocals that sound like the Temptations. "Little Savage" uses the electric organ sound that was captured in early Elvis recordings, while "The Loved Ones" is a good two-step beat that opens the second side of the album. Costello reiterates the calypso beat on "Shabby Doll," which contains true Costello sarcasm.
Costello displays a touch of vengeance in "Little Fool," a song with a strong beat and soft harpsichord. In this song; Costello warns that "Daddy's best girl in the world is not supposed to have a boyfriend / but she's never wanted at home."
The best song on the album, "Man Out of Time," is one of the longest songs Costello has ever recorded. It has very strong lyrical content and a couple of fine hooks that make it the best recording Costello has made in a long time.
Although the album may not be a chart-buster, it does show that Costello is one of the most original artists in music today and that he is a versatile vocalist. But although it's admirable that Elvis Costello is not a conformist, not many record buyers can afford to buy experimental albums in these days of economic hardship. Artists can't risk losing fans through experimentation with music — not even the "king."