Record Of The Week # 14

April 14, 2017

Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

When this gem was purchased by a pal (Neil Smith) in 1982, as was the habit, it was soon transferred to a C90 cassette and lived in the car. Elvis Costello was, at the time, very much the future of rock ‘n’ roll.

After his arrival as part of the Stiff Record Label explosion in 1976 then I was a fan. Vituperative Rock ‘n’ Roll meets Punk in short 3 minute tuneful burst coupled to his staccato delivery of lyrics with brilliant rhyming couplets and caustic observations of anything and everything. For me it always worked better for me on record rather than live. I well recollect seeing him at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion and frankly not catching a word as he breathlessly tore through his set at a pace that was definitely Punk. I saw him once again after that but I wondered why I had shelled out my hard earned cash twice.

Imperial Bedroom was Elvis’ 5th album after his recording career started in 1977. Always a tune and wordsmith then this album was different as we saw a real maturing of the talent. From the electric buzz that introduced the album then you can detect that the production and arrangements are a significant shift from the earlier output. Geoff Emerick, of Beatles fame, was at the production helm and comfortable to add strings, accordion, brass, National steel dobro, harpsichord in arrangements that gave a clue as to Elvis’ future genre hoping output. In fact “Loved Ones” is a Beatles arrangement to the core and “All You Need Is Love” horns on “Pidgin English” are familiar.

The album heralded a move from the four-piece sound but as Costello was leading the arrangements then they never lose his indelible ‘sound’.

“Beyond Belief” gives us the first lyrical glimpse of his genius:

“History repeats the old conceits

The glib replies, the same defeats

Keep your finger on important issues

With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues”

However for all his cleverness then the ability to slip back to the mundane boy girl tribulations of “Long Honeymoon” show his deft touch:

There’s been a long honeymoon

She thought too late and spoke too soon

There’s no money back guarantee on future happiness

However the music is the brilliance and “Man Out Of Time” brings a dramatic change of pace with its screeching guitar intro and it is here the contribution of The Attractions becomes clear with Pete Thomas’s drumming and Steve Nieve’s keyboards. For the bassist, Bruce Thomas, then look to Almost Blue with his jazzy touches. In fact the early success of Elvis Costello cannot be divorced from the Attractions such was their technical competence, maybe Elvis’ continual reinvention made it a stimulating place to be for the band.

His vocals cannot be underestimated whether coming at you full force or the little boy lost of “Town Cryer” (at this stage in his career it had the most beautiful timbre).

Not a duff track in sight. Important and brilliant.

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