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Generally considered the best album by fans of Elvis Costello, 'Imperial Bedroom' is not the most accessible of his 1980's recordings (that honour belongs to the poptastic 'Punch The Clock' that precedes this release and features the dancefloor-clearing hit "Everyday I Write The Book") but is his most fully realized and orchestral work in his trademark acerbic style.
Something of a concept album, Imperial Bedroom boasts 15 songs about trust and lack of passion in relationships. Unfairly the record has been categorized as old fashioned and in the past has been often compared to Tin Pan Alley. A few bars of "Beyond Belief" or "Shaggy Doll" should dispell any of these notions but these conclusions are usually drawn from the numerous ballads that make up the second part of the orginal album. Very few writers of an era have written songs as powerful as "Kid About It" or "Town Crier".
Clearly 'Imperial Bedroom' represents a peak in Elvis Costello's ambitions of being considered both a serious composer and a viable commercial performer. The latter of these ambitions may explain why Elvis turned to pure pop on his next two recordings as Imperial Bedroom was at best a commercial disappointment. However, the record also represents a peak in EC's songwriting and this is represented in one of his most often quoted lyrics from "The Loved Ones":
"Don't Get Smart Or Sarcastic / He Snaps Back Just Like Elastic / Spare Us The Theatrics And The Verbal Gymnastics / We Break Wise Guys Just Like Matchsticks.
Granted, EC's songwriting had reached new heights but also the instrumental backing provided by the Attractions is their finest hour. From track to track, the group can play with virtoilic intensity and/or delicate sensitivity perfectly accompanying EC's emotional intentions. (Although the group's sound proper is better captured on EC's late 70's releases such as the classics 'This Year's Model', 'Armed Forces' and 'Get Happy'). And former Beatle Engineer Geoff Emerick perfectly captured the feeling of loneliness that pervaded EC's songs from this period as well as providing plenty of opportunity for the group to experiment.
My choice for album of the 1980's, Imperial Bedroom is still by no means a perfect record (I tend to think that there was only two perfect pop records ever recorded, being The Band's 1969 eponymous release and Marvin Gaye's 'What's Goin' On' from 1971). The album falters on "Pidgin English" and "Little Savage" in which the groups ambitions just slip outside of it's grasp. Having said that, I argue that 'Imperial Bedroom' is a throughly entertaining and important recording that is also very contemporary despite the rock press's contention that it is old fashioned.
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