Rochester Institute of Technology Reporter, September 24, 1982
Lyrical potency secures
Elvis Costello's eighth album to date, Imperial Bedroom, is not standard fare in comparison to his other accomplishments. While it is a far cry from the angry Elvis Costello that one is accustomed to, it does not lack in punch.
The album consists of 15 songs ranging in theme from love to hate, from passion to violence. Of course, this is nothing new for Costello. His delivery sets this album apart. He has never been at a loss for words and there seems to be no need to make any conclusions otherwise. He is lyrically potent. The knack that Costello has for rhyme and a good pun just shimmers throughout. Along with The Attractions, his long-standing back-up band, he produces a combination that hits more frequently than it misses.
The production of the album deserves credit as well. Geoff Emerick has done a superb job in keeping the record controlled and somewhat deliberate in its approach. There are also some wonderful orchestrations by Steve Nieve, a member of The Attractions. The cover lends interest to the record as well. An abstract painting done by Sal Forlenza in 1942 and entitled, "Snakecharmer and Reclining Octopus" adorns the jacket. This sounds fine, but the question remains, "What gives, Elvis?" The answer is that Elvis Costello has changed. He is no longer the angry young man trying to tell us just the opposite as on his first album, My Aim is True. He seems more vulnerable now. He plays the role of the scorned romantic on many occasions. "The Long Honeymoon" is a song that proves just that point. It is a romantic ballad that has a continental sort of cha-cha beat with a fine organ background. "There's no money back guarantee on future happiness..." he quips. It happens to be quite true, but it does not seem as though Costello is still "Waiting for The End of the World."
The next track is called "Man Out of Time." It is appropriately tided in that it starts with a loud raucous guitar and Costello doing his best to scream his lungs out. It is reminiscent of the song "Luxembourg," from the Trust album. However, the song then breaks into a slow ballad with more than a few musical and lyrical hooks. "To murder my love is crime, but will you still love a man out of time." "Man Out of Time" is a song that practically slaps you lyrically, and yet it is not that noticeable on the first or even the second listen.
Costello has done us a favor though, never before has he included a lyric sheet with any of his previous albums. A purchase of his songbook, Elvis Costello: A Musical Dictionary was the only way to find out exactly what he was saying. Not so in this case, the inner sleeve of Imperial Bedroom has the lyrics to all the songs on the album. The bad news is the songs are not separated by title. When looking at the inner sleeve, all that can be observed is four monstrous paragraphs. Needless to say, following these lyrics without some sort of card or straightedge is a real chore.
Why would Costello choose to do this? It is almost as if he feels that if his public wants to read the words, then they had better be perseverant; in other words, they certainly had better give a damn if they are going to sit there with an index card and follow along. Who's not angry anymore?
Another song that demands listening to is called, "The Loved Ones."
Don't get smart or sarcastic
Costello commented strongly on this song recently. To quote him from the September 2, 1982 Rolling Stone interview by Greil Marcus: "...it's the opposite of "Rust Never Sleeps," it's saying, Damn being a junkie and dying in some romantic way like Brendan Behan or Dylan Thomas. Somebody in your family has to bury you, you know?" The song is situated around a multitude of pop hooks and the result is startling. It is ironic that the very idea of the song is placed into a musical arrangement that suggests something very different.
My Aim Is True and This Year's Model are examples of Elvis Costello's anger. Armed Forces, which was at first titled, "Emotional Fascism," is a statement of Costello's political leanings and Almost Blue is Elvis goes Nashville. What is Imperial Bedroom?
It is a fantastic achievement in personal growth on Costello's part. In the beginning of his career, he would not love or let himself be loved. Now he has let down his guard and shown who he really and truly is. He is a romantic humanitarian who has been hurt too many times. He shows his scorn, his grief, and the deceit he has experienced, but on Imperial Bedroom he lets you know that he still has hope. Hope for Elvis Costello means that he is sure to get hurt again, but he is also sure that it is worth the effort.
Costello once said during an interview with Tom Snyder that he does not like the term, "matured," because it made him sound like cheese. Regardless of his aversion for the word, it is true. He is a big boy now and Imperial Bedroom reflects that maturity. He is under control and he is not lashing out as much as in the past.
In comparison to all of his previous releases Imperial Bedroom lacks the danceable beat and the snarl that accompanies it. But Costello's progress meant that he had to drop that bit eventually. He has; and although it is disappointing that you cannot writhe around with your tennis racket as a guitar, screaming along with him, there is satisfaction in knowing that there is a new Elvis Costello album to just listen to. And listen you must. Not a word or note is wasted here. It is as if he was only slotted a certain amount of ingredients, so he had to utilize them to the best possible extent. It is Sort of like a musical bake-off without the time limit.
Serious Elvis Costello fans should buy this album. Those who like Elvis Costello because of his previous recordings of anger and cynicism should perhaps listen to a friend's copy before plunking down $7.98. If you are less wary and a little impulsive, then get out your wallet. Imperial Bedroom does not disappoint.
Reporter, September 24, 1982
RIT Reporter reviews Imperial Bedroom.