To call this the best batch of tunes the songwriting sharpshooter has ever offered would be like calling a sunset purty.
Beguiling and quick witted as ever, Costello has put his vicious bite on tight leash for his eighth album in less than five years. This year's Elvis is two parts Sinatra, one part Presley, one part Gershwin, one part Goulet and several parts genius — a lounge leopard in snakeskin clothing who conceals deadly venom behind his new toothy grin.
His true aim this time is croon to be kind. But beneath the smooth and steady pop of 15 top tunes lurks the usual literary command, Elvis as ever.
A simple listen to such streamlined Costello staples as "Beyond Belief," "Boy With A Problem," "Shabby Doll" or "The Loved Ones" shows he can still twist a word or phrase into a hallway of meanings, with understanding lying beyond a hundred vexing doors.
Yet the charm of Imperial Bedroom is defined by the limits to which Costello strains and the simplicity with which he offers it all up.
"Tears Before Bedtime" is ample evidence of this, though not one of the album's most successful songs. An apologetic statement for earlier incidents, Costello stretches his vocals to an almost high-heeled falsetto. The snappy claps, gorgeous refrain and infectuous organ whip about one of Elvis' most purposeful soul pitches.
Yet "You Little Fool" pulls off the trick better. Much more within Costello's vocal range and piled high with backround harmonies, the song takes off during the sonic intro and never slows.
Still, this is not the Stax romp of Get Happy!! Nor is it a country session like Almost Blue, despite the inclusion of the erstwhile title track from that effort, which is this record's weakest link.
The pure pop of Imperial Bedroom lies closest to Trust — though lacking the ragged edges and anomalous little corners of the previous effort — with elements of of both Armed Forces and Costello's mesmerizing debut.
Imperial Bedroom's powerful production and cinematic scope may even surpass Armed Forces. But here it is even better utilized to bring Costello forward as a capable singer, while the songs are clipped and forceful.
"The Long Honeymoon" is one of the most emotionally draining and magnificent Costello songs ever. After countless replays, I still find myself hanging on the single bare thread, holding my breath for the phone ring.
"Shabby Doll," "Man Out Of Time," and "Kid About It" are other Costello treats that demonstrate his new direction. Smooth and confident storybook songs with simple pop structures, they put Elvis across as a sincere and graceful, if somewhat awkward star.
Forgive and forget, is the message this year's Elvis bleats, as if maturity is something you can subscribe to.
Despite such suspicions, it is easy to call Imperial Bedroom the best Attractions' album. If anything, it belongs as much to keyboardist Steve Nieve (whose best moments come during "...And In Every Home") as it does Elvis.
Without a doubt, the Attractions are one of the all time great backing bands. They are a polished unit that may exist as the matting for the star, but sometimes it is hard to distinguish the star among the illustrious backdrop.
After all these months I still stutter to term this a masterpiece — partly because so much is expected from Elvis. It is most definitely a monumental, permanent play upon my turntable.
As Costello continues to peak, surely he will wipe away all doubts of conviction — the same he so carefully placed in his career.
I believe he almost wiped them all away with this gem.