Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Lyrically sharp with grand arrangements to support them, the songs presented on Imperial Bedroom are incredibly ambitious, sounding (thankfully) nothing like many of the empty-headed "New Wave" groups of that period. It wasn't of its time, though remains a favorite of mine because it makes no attempt to embrace the embarrassing sonic trends that were becoming prevalent in the eighties. (He would sadly fall into that trap once on "Goodbye Cruel World" and it would be a poor fit.) Elvis Costello emerged from the UK in the late 70's, making music every bit as creative as those giants of the last golden period in the mid 60's. He was one of a handful of artists that made one last push to preserve the intelligence and vitality of rock music, before the video medium overran imagination with crass commercial interests.
Your attention is required (and held) throughout this record, not simply because of the lyrical density but also due to the detail that is evident in both production (courtesy of one the masters, Geoff Emerick) and musicianship. It sounds as if it were a difficult album to make in terms of time spent, yet that patience resulted in a definitive work of art. No blazing rock songs are submitted here, though more than a hint of the baroque touches applied to late period Beatles recordings are present. Case in point, "...and in Every Home", complete with 40 piece orchestra, incorporates stately brass parts with a nod to the fade of "Good Day Sunshine" as the title is repeated in harmony to close side one. "Pidgin English" has a similar feel. Taken at a faster tempo, it deploys horns that hit the spot and a very unique, layered vocal arrangement.
Every possible avenue is explored in providing the listener with interesting touches to find in the pristine mix. Swirling organ gradually creeps into "Beyond Belief" and does battle with an intricate, almost frantic piano, yet it all adds to the paranoid tension that threatens to snap at any moment. The genius of Steve Nieve at work.
"So in this almost empty gin palace
Through a two-way looking glass
You see your Alice"
Fading before really breaking out of the straightjacket, it is a compelling opener.
"Man Out of Time" is another highlight, featuring a jarring edit of some inspired chaos kicked up by the quartet that bookends this exceptional track. While it failed to score as a single release, this should not be taken as a reflection of its merit. One of his most underrated compositions, the melody is a grand match for the superb lyric that it's paired with.
"To murder my love is a crime
But will you still love
A man out of time..."
Stretching out in terms of vocal performance, a few new jazzy places are visited ("Shabby Doll", "Kid About it") and he really pushes himself on the emotive "Almost Blue". Nods to the past crop up as "Human Hands", which reprises the reggae stumble found on "Watching the Detectives". Similarly, "Little Savage" is cut from the same musical cloth as some of the material on "Armed Forces". His powers of continuous creativity rarely flag. There is also a very good vibe that propels much of the set, especially through the second side. Exuding positivity, "The Loved Ones" is the aural equivalent of a sunny day, with energy to spare. Though the words remain occasionally brutal, the finger pointing is balanced somewhat. "The Long Honeymoon" reveals how time tests relationships, against a soft backdrop with sympathetic accordion in support. Stylistically varied, song lengths are tightly reigned in so as not to overstay their welcome. This is an incredibly easy set to digest without restlessness setting in.
By the time you reach the cleverly orchestrated closer ("Town Cryer") there is little doubt that you have encountered work which is matched by few contemporary writers. Warm with just the right amount of sandpaper to avoid being cloying, this disc is held in high regard by both fans and critics for many reasons. He wouldn't make another one quite like Imperial Bedroom.