Back on during U2’s Pop tour, I headed to the Superdome to see the show. The most exciting thing about that show is that I remember I bought an Elvis Costello’s greatest hits cd from Tower Records. U2 seemed tired, but Elvis in the car sounded young and full of life. I think I purchased his entire catalog in the next year.
While there was a period where Elvis could do no wrong, Imperial Bedroom is Costello at the height of his powers. I listened to the CD constantly. Years later, on Record Store Day, I found a used copy at Peaches for $7 which makes this the best deal I ever got there.
There is nothing special about this particular physical record. It’s a standard release not the hi-fi one. The lyrics are on the sleeve. After a good wash, it sounded great like most records do after a good clean. However, the medium isn’t the message with this one.
It was produced by Geoff Emerick who was a an engineer on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road. Of course, he worked with other artists, but when you are partially responsible for the sound of Beatles albums people are going to know you about that. He’s perfect for this album because Costello seems to be trying to break free from his early near perfect sound that he made with Nick Lowe. He’s ideas need fuller arrangements.
At the time I was impressed with how many words Costello could get into a song. The Replacements, my all time favorite band, always got to the point and when they were poetic they still employed an economy of words. Robert Smith of the Cure could write tons of lyrics but those songs seemed to be above five minutes. Costello seemed to figure it out without sacrificing the length of a pop song. The lyric that caught my attention was “so called gentlemen and ladies dog fight like rose and thistle” on Beyond Belief. At first I thought he was just explaining a fight he had with a lover or a fight he saw between lovers. Then my history degree kicked and I wondered if he was talking about the War of the Roses. Then I stopped trying to analyze and just enjoyed the sound of the words.
Listening to it today, it amazes me how much music is actually on this album. Each song neither seems long or short, but after about the fourth song on side 1, I kept thinking it was time to switch the side. That might say more about other artists, or I might say that Costello was full of ideas, great ideas, and needed to get them all out.