I couldn't wait to get my hands on Elvis Costello's new release as soon as I heard it was out. Whatever it was, I knew it would be upbeat, original, and very tight. It was, but I surely did not expect what I got.
At first I was disappointed. Where were all those horns, strings, accordions, harpsichords and sophisticated back-up vocal mixes coming from? What were all these obscure mini rock-operetta songs? Where was Elvis' hard, down to earth, plain and simple cynical rock and roll? But I gave it a couple more plays. The more I listened, the more intrigued and impressed I became.
Slowly, it dawned on me, quite independent from the critical acclaim, and in my growing excitement, that I was listening to an entity unique and unprecedented in rock and roll. Every once in a while a musician comes along who furthers the growth of rock, takes it a step into uncharted territory, pushing it to where it has never been before, and achieves refreshing success. Elvis Costello has done this with Imperial Bedroom. It is truly an album to be listened to; to sit with and read the words; to listen to with an open and discerning ear.
The originality of this music comes from an inspired combination of the essential elements of jazz, classical, show, and rock music with a little bit of old movie music thrown in for fun. What impressed me the most was the amount of risk taken, and the music that resulted so utterly worth that risk. These are sophisticated and educated risks, but the results are rewarding in their simplicity and unpretentiousness. The only thing sloppy on this album is the vocalization, and even that is deliberate.
The album is dramatic, tense, and the tunes are rich and fulfilling. The lyrics are depressing in a wistful, fateful way. Each song's story has a bitter and vulnerable edge to it. "Boy With a Problem" written with Chris Difford is a love song full of twisted pain, guilt and unresolved conflict. Love and hate are all balled up in one unhappy couple where forgiveness is given, but not wanted. "Let's go to bed / I can roll over and play dead / but here I am in the doghouse instead / I feel like a boy with a problem / I can't believe all you've forgotten / sleeping with forgiveness in your heart for me."
"You Little Fool" is a classic. A lilting harpsichord leaves behind the chorus while he says to her "I suppose you're going to stay all night" and she looks at him with her false eyelashes; a father's daughter falling for a cheap first love — that's not really love at all. "She surrounds his name with hearts and flowers / Talks on the telephone for hours." The song is forceful and painful, bringing back sharp memories of all our horrid first crushes.
With some beautiful love songs and some fast solid rock songs, this is a well rounded, luscious and sophisticated album. The sound is crisp, full, and tightly orchestrated, well thought out but performed with spontaneity. Definitely a departure from past albums, but it's a novel and exciting direction. It's an album difficult to talk about, but well worth giving a good listen to.