Thursday, 2 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 12 Imperial Bedroom

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 12 
Imperial Bedroom - Elvis Costello and the Attractions

"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"

The Raymond Chandler of post-punk-pub-rock hides in suburban gardens watching versions of himself engage in various sexual and emotional conflagrations. Inside his disconnected head is not a comfortable place to be but by god you see things through these glasses you don't see (a. when you're sober or - (b. if you have 20/20 vision.
There are fifteen songs on the original release of this album and they could all be called In Every Dream Home a Heartache. Indeed one song is called ...and in Every Home. By turns cajoling, caressing, chastising, charming and always convincing Elvis twists these already dramatic songs into pain wracked passion plays. It is also one of E.C.'s most sonically adventurous albums, both in terms of the instruments and the most important instrument, his malevolent mouth.

He is like an oily salesman one minute, a greek chorus the next, trying to convince us of his honesty one minute and his distance the next. But we remain suspicious. The album opener, Beyond Belief, tells us that he is just that, beyond belief. The opening lines quoted above suggest that we should perhaps take the words of the narrators of these songs with a pillar of salt. They look back in anger.

There are few songwriters prepared to describe a version of themselves in such unflattering language as this:  "I'm just the oily slick / On the windup world of the nervous tick", and fewer still capable of coining the phrase with such skill.

But as well as the snide, sneering character that Costello plays so well we get some tenderness and even fragility. The Long Honeymoon tells the story of a woman on whom realisation is dawning that her husband and best friend are having an affair behind her back, and "the baby isn't old enough to speak." She discovers the heft of her love in its disintegration "If he's out on a date then her life's in ruins
She never thought her love could ever be as strong as this." The devastation is so complete that she wonders if she can, or should, face it "Maybe she should just pretend."

At least she's pretending. The little fool in You Little Fool is taken in by an imitation of love, and Elvis sounds like he's taking pleasure in her misery. "You little fool / Don't look at me that way, you know it isn't right." He sounds like he never is. Not right.

When he gets fragile you have to wonder if it's real, or if he's just a character spinning a line. In Human Hands he manages to express his love, or at least his desire, while at the same time being insulting: "Do I Have To Draw you a Diagram?" Everything on this album appears double edged, nothing is simple.

I haven't even scraped the surface of this album. As I mentioned before, there are fifteen songs, all are good, many are great. Today I'm liking Pidgin English most but tomorrow it will be something else. But if you like morally and lexically complex songs sung by a singer determined to tear the heart out of his songs and present it to you still beating over a backing band at the height of their considerable powers this one might just be for you. As it is for me. Amen.

"He's got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge / He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege"


  1. This was one of the EC albums where I began to drift away from the guy, Séamus, but I think I'll have to give it another try given that you and another blogger friend of mine both rank this as their personal favorite by him. The one record by him I couldn't live without is This Year's Model: probably an all-time Top 10 pick of mine and the EC album I've played most over the years by far.

    1. Well, This Years Model is pretty close to this in my estimation. A great album too. I stayed with him until Blood and Chocolate but anything I've listened to since then hasn't lived up to his early work for me.

  2. It seems that our car boot sales are getting ever closer Seamus. Fantastic album that is only just behind King of America in my affections. Love isn't always blind, just occasionally one eyed and mislead. Or in need of spectacles...
    I played 'North' the other day and love the sound but can't remember a single thing said/shred; ditto 'All This Useless Beauty' but, apart from the lingering, lovely title track nothing stays lodged.

    1. Maybe the bile in his stomach became too diluted by experience. Good for him, if not his records. He is the Shakespeare of Sneer.

    2. The Greene of spleen...