Sounds, July 10, 1982

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Breathless in bed

Elvis Costello / Imperial Bedroom

Dave McCullough


If the clots that traipsed lemming-like along to see "The Stones" had only just all sat themselves down end listened to this Costello album, or any Costello album (Get Happy and Imperial Bedroom especially recommended), they could have cheered themselves up, as well as learning more about the lives they (presumably) live, more than by the peculiar, cowardly rite they actually went through.

Costello, I can't help it, I see as a Tolstoy among those flea-bitten little rags of half talent. This is such a massive star! And instead in the pretend-rock annotations, he gets lumped in with the likes of Parker, Springsteen et al. All lesser artists by miles.

Imperial Bedroom is one of his best. It sees him in the very same week up there alongside hot now young tuns such as ABC (by the way, the same lyric printing technique on both sleeves) but is no way run-of-the-mill. There's still an energy here and, needs be, an energy to change and to enforce change on others.

Imperial Bedroom is a perfect title, the reviewer candidly thought to himself, while realising that he had blown his exegesis talents for that week on a sizeable ABC exposition, the reviewer thought out loud:

"This album starts off so lazily! "Beyond Belief" and "Tears Before Bedtime" remind me of an unmade bed — the music just stretches out lazily, languidly, Costello almost arrogantly, yawningly letting his talent ripple over another forty minutes of plastic.

"The feeling is of effortlessness but at the same time, as always, Costello's songs are little pellets of pent up emotion. These are the two great extremes that Costello is finally, distinctly delineating in his songs. Their gentleness and their fury."

So he thought and it is true that Imperial Bedroom sees Costello reach some kind of peak of peaks. The key words are simply imperiousness and sleepiness; it's as if Costello following that, as it were. objective C & W jaunt, can now, almost step outside his music and notice its free flowing ease, almost wicked in a way and practically dangerous.

The trouble is, you can just picture Costello in a safe groove, with the flick of his coy wrist turning out "Man Out Of Time" (the great song here); the Costello auto-pilot. But he avoids this by the very skin of his punning, parodying, teeth and it's why his music is so ... great and kind and loving, despite the constant vituperative attacks.

Other things become clear with Imperial Bedroom: Costello is now firmly settling himself into the role of Absurdest supreme, the initial absurdist angle coming from his tangled feeling for and about Love but now leading onto other topics, other angles.

Costello is becoming very self-conscious about his art in his old age. His lyrical twists and spins are now almost ornamental in effect, if not in initial inspiration. He knows a good line when he ... knows it.

There is an arch feeling about this LP, as if he's watching over it and the reactions it'll provoke. (That jumbled up title is surely done purposely for scribes such as your present one -- why does he keep running away from us when some of us might be able to help him?)

Imperial Bedroom is the album where Costello nearly turns in on himself too sharply. There's always been a dryness about his work that has maybe been the chief cause of its latent failure to stave off indifference. Maybe it's his voice (a bit sharply samey), perhaps he's too much to gulp down for the normally jaded listener. But at any rate on this late and very great LP, Costello used the absurdist effects of muddiness and that drifting feeling to his own advantage. It's his major theme here.

On "And In Every Home" and "Town Cryer," Costello even (even!) carries on from latter day album tracking Beatles, using strings for a collage-like surreal effect. It's called, I suppose, Taking Responsibility for the (unused) pop idiom. Why is he all alone in it? Now a final word or three from our sleepwalking writer:

"Stuff Tolstoy. I meant more like Sartre and Camus put together..."

Costello is almost worth the worshipping.

Tags: Imperial BedroomBeyond BeliefMan Out Of TimeTown CryerTears Before BedtimeAnd In Every HomeThe AttractionsGet Happy!!The BeatlesThe Rolling StonesBruce SpringsteenGraham ParkerRoyal Albert Hall

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Sounds, July 10, 1982

Dave McCullough reviews Imperial Bedroom.

Sounds previews the December 24 and 27 concerts at Royal Albert Hall.


1982-07-10 Sounds clipping 01.jpg 1982-07-10 Sounds photo 01 cg.jpg
Photo by Chris Gabrin.

Costello's Albert memorial


1982-07-10 Sounds page 02 clipping 01.jpg

Cover and page scan.
1982-07-10 Sounds cover.jpg 1982-07-10 Sounds page 02.jpg


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