Saturday, 2 June 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Imperial Bedroom (1982)

What's going on behind the green elevator door....

  

Released July 1982

Recorded at Air Studios, London

Running time 50.48

By 1982, the “new wave” had faded somewhat, the two tone thing had gone the same way and the preposterous flouncings of “new romanticism” abounded. Little more than five years and six albums later - was Elvis Costello still relevant? His previous album had been received with incredulity from may of his punk/new wave fans because it was an album of country and western songs. While Almost Blue was what it was, it must be remembered that the album nine months previous to that, Trust had been a mini-masterpiece of polished, organ-driven, bassy pop with Costello's now trademark cynical lyrical edge to the fore. It was also notable for its delving into different styles, though, and this is continued on this, arguably his best album. 

Although commercially, his star was waning a little bit, he remained highly respected and showed himself to be an artist who was prepared to diversify and push his own boundaries, albeit still at the moment within the confines of his band, The Attractions. He certainly did that with this, which in many ways was his Sgt Pepper.

TRACK LISTING

1. Beyond Belief

2. Tears Before Bedtime
3. Shabby Doll
4. The Long Honeymoon
5. Man Out Of Time
6. Almost Blue
7. ...And In Every Home
8. The Loved Ones
9. Human Hands
10. Kid About It
11. Little Savage
12. Boy With A Problem
13. Pidgin English
14. You Little Fool
15. Town Cryer                                           

Ironically, employing the very engineer who worked on Pepper, Geoff Emerick, Costello and his band produced a “chocolate box” of an album, with tracks differing from track to track, from the short and snappy, bass-driven Beyond Belief and Tears Before Bedtime to the tuneful pop of Human Hands to the longer, mysterious, edgy Shabby Doll


Then to the gentle piano ballad of The Long Honeymoon and the slow torch song Almost Blue. A great pop single is there in the catchy, riffy You Little Fool and Man Out Of Time is classic overblown Costello. Little Savage, Pidgin English ...And In Every Home and the echoey Kid About It are all equally impressive. 

The musicianship is top class throughout and, as we had now come to expect, beneath what sometimes appeared jaunty, catchy melodies lay dark, sombre lyrics and images. There is a bitterness and a brutality the like of which, even for Costello, had not been expressed before. Songs like Tears Before Bedtime, The Loved Ones and Human Hands are all awash with lush orchestration and sonic perfection, yet bristle with that perplexing angst that Costello was rapidly making his own. You can say the same about the slow ballad Boy With A Problem and the moody closer, Town Cryer

It is certainly not an instantly appealing album. There is nothing on it that can be approximated as "rock" music. It is an exercise in trying to produce pop perfection, but with a lyrical cutting edge. For that reason, it took me quite a long time to “get into” this album when it came out. To be honest, it was probably fifteen years or so later that I really began to truly appreciate it. Therein lies its appeal, however.  Even now, I still find it a fascinating listen. Highly recommended. It still sounds good today. Most importantly, it is the first album that gained Elvis Costello true respect, across he board, not just from his fans or peers. 

*

There were many non-album tracks that came from this period. These are some of them:-

Little Goody Two Shoes

Dating from November 1981, this song has two versions. The first is a frantic, harmonica driven piece of blues rock, the second a slowed-down, jazzy blues number. Both are equally impressive and enjoyable.

I Turn Around

This hails from February 1982 and has a lively Get Happy!! beat to it and an infectious bass line. Its organ sound goes right back to the Armed Forces era. It has a couple of lines that would re-appear in 1983's The Invisible Man

From Head To Toe

A cover of a Smokey Robinson & The Miracles song, it is also from February 1982. It is a suitable toe-tapping, energetic number featuring a glorious Motown bass line. Elvis and The Attractions do this really well. A rocking piano drives it along, together with some lively drums.

The World Of Broken Hearts

From the same sessions comes this Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman cover. It is given a grandiose Costello ballad makeover. It doesn't quite do it for me, being a bit too melodramatic vocally. 

Night Time

This is a cover of a song by an artist called Paddy Chambers, whose work I am not familiar with. It is played slightly jazzily by The Attractions and would have fitted nicely on the "Trust" album, if it had to go anywhere. 

Really Mystified

We now get a fourth cover, this time going back to the sixties and The Merseybeats. It was as if Elvis was just having a bit of fun with these covers in the studio and had no intention of putting them on the album. This is a very sixties/Beatles-ish number, typical of its era.

The Stamping Ground

This was the 'b' side to You Little Fool. It is a slightly mournful, slow-paced Costello original. It is a reasonable track, with a good hook, but probably not worthy of being on the album. 

Imperial Bedroom

Now, this really should have been on the album that bears its name. It is a piano-driven waltz of a number with some killer, rumbling bass and some great vocals from Elvis. The hook is memorable and I have found myself singing "In the imperial bedroom, the regal boudoir..." many times. 

Seconds Of Pleasure

There are a couple of versions of this track. I am sure some of the lyrics end up on a song on Punch The Clock. Both the versions are Costello singing over a clunking piano backing. The "demo" version is marginally better than the eventual recording, although both date from the same session. The song meanders around without ever getting where it was heading, for me. 

B+

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