When Elvis Costello looked inward in “Imperial Bedroom”

Elvis Costello once portrayed Imperial Room like his “most upbeat album nowadays.”

His seventh studio album and his sixth with the Attractions went on to tackle topics like spousal infidelity (“there is no money back guarantee on future happiness“), relationships disintegrating into violence (“I can’t believe what we forgot / and I even slapped you and made you cry“) and general self-condemnation (“Love is always scampering or cowering or flattering / You insensibly drink and hate yourself in the morning“).

So Costello’s definition of “optimist” might be different than the average person. Imperial Room wasn’t exactly a carefree LP, but it was one of Costello’s most mature attempts to grapple with his existentialism.

Costello’s music has often been described as cynical and vindictive from the time he released his first album, 1977’s my aim is true. His infamous comment to NME at the time, stating that the only two emotions he knew and felt were “revenge and guilt” certainly didn’t help his reputation.

This “self-perpetuating venom”, as Costello described it rolling stone in 1982 threatened to engulf his career. There was little room left for Costello to prove he wasn’t as callous or indifferent as some might have believed based on his words and quotes to the media.

Then Costello sparked a drunken brawl in 1979 in Columbus, Ohio after throwing racial epithets at black musicians, namely James Brown and Ray Charles. Costello tried to clear things up in an uncomfortable New York press conference that followed, but lingering issues remained.

Listen to Elvis Costello’s “Man Out of Time”

Michael Jackson also recorded with Paul McCartney at AIR recording studios in London, as Imperial Room the sessions continued. Bassist Bruce Thomas bumped into Jackson while the vocals were being recorded in another room, and the mood instantly changed when he was introduced as Costello’s bandmate.

“Suddenly there was a freeze. Michael Jackson was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t like this guy. … I don’t like this guy,'” Costello said. rolling stone. “He had heard about it third hand, from Quincy Jones – two guys I have huge admiration for. It depressed me that I couldn’t walk up to him. I couldn’t come up and shake his hand, because he wouldn’t shake my hand.

“I’m not saying I wasn’t responsible for my actions; it sounds like I’m trying to apologize,” Costello added. “But I wasn’t very responsible. There’s a distinct difference. I was completely irresponsible, actually. And far from careless – concernedless with all. With everything that really matters to me.”

Costello was now two years away from turning 30, so older and presumably wiser. Keeping it took 12 weeks to complete Imperial Room, stretching the process in a way it didn’t have before. He also recorded again without Nick Lowe, a trusted collaborator who had produced Costello’s first five albums before the immediately preceding covers. almost blue.

“We’d all heard each other’s jokes at least once by this point,” Costello wrote in the liner notes for the 1994 reissue of Imperial Room. “Anyway, I knew I wanted to try a few things in the studio that I suspected would quickly exhaust Nick’s patience.”

Instead, he cast producer Geoff Emerick, notable for his engineering work with the Beatles. Emerick’s influence was palpable throughout Imperial Room, from the unexpected ending of “Man Out of Time” to the exuberant arrangement of “…And in Every Home”. Emerick was officially credited with producing the LP “from an Elvis Costello brainchild”, an attempt to ensure Emerick got the credit he deserved.

Watch the music video for Elvis Costello’s “You Little Fool”

“It was not the vanity he might have seemed at the time,” Costello later wrote. he had co-produced East Side History for Squeeze in 1981, and saw firsthand how recognition could easily be misplaced. “In a very short time,” Costello said, the entire production became “attributed to me alone, with co-producer Roger Bechirian’s name often omitted from reviews and articles.

“I didn’t want that process to repeat itself,” he added, “so even though I was theoretically a co-producer with Geoff, in truth he did almost everything you could call ‘production’ in terms of sound, while I focused on the music.” (Squeeze’s Chris Difford was also credited as lyricist for one of Imperial Room‘s, “Boy With a Problem”.)

Keeping things organized behind the production console didn’t necessarily mean applying strict rules to everything that came out of these sessions, which borrowed from the brilliant pop sounds of the 60s but didn’t directly copy them. “We made no attempt to make the songs obey any arrangement or production style,” Costello wrote, “rather we tried to make the most of this musical variety.”

Part of that meant experimenting with instruments and their typical sounds. Imperial Room arrived July 2, 1982 with a 12-string Martin guitar was “tapped” and passed through a Hammond Leslie speaker on “Shabby Doll”, a National Steel Dobro imitated a sitar in “Pidgin English” and, in using another Beatles-esque method, a harpsichord part in “You Little Fool” was doubled using the reverse tape technique.

“You Little Fool” was later released as the lead single from Imperial Room, despite Costello’s objections. He thought “Man Out of Time” was the “heart” of the LPwhile “You Little Fool” – a song Costello said in his autobiography was about “a teenage girl surrendering to an unworthy, older man” – was not representative of the album as a whole.

Still, one radio-friendly hook was enough to prompt his label to release “You Little Fool” anyway.

Listen to Elvis Costello’s “The Loved Ones”

Elsewhere, Costello continued to combine forbidden, even moody lyrics with light, amiable pop. This is perhaps best exemplified on “The Loved Ones”, a song that Costello described as the “hardest song to overcome” in the interview with rolling stone.

“Considering it has such a light pop melody, it’s like saying, ‘Fuck posterity, you better live. It’s the opposite of [Neil Young’s] rust never sleeps“, Costello added. “It’s about, fucking being a junkie and dying in a romantic and bogus way like Brendan Behan or Dylan Thomas. Someone in your family has to bury you, you know? It’s a complicated idea to put into a pop song. I didn’t want to write a story around it, I just wanted to throw all those ideas into a song – around a good pop hook.”

In some ways, Costello has moved on with Imperial Room; in others, he was just beginning to reflect on himself after five years of making records. “A lot of the songs are about the kind of self-loathing,” he later said. Singer-songwriter. “There were a lot of things I wasn’t very happy about at that time. I wanted the songs to blow up the world. I had crazy ambitions – not crazy like in ‘ambition to be famous’. I never wanted this; it just came as an accident of it all. But somehow you look at yourself and you’re not happy with what you see.

Many of Costello’s frustrations, as he admitted to the New York Times in 1982, aimed for himself. “The most personal songs are either imaginary scenarios, or observations of other people, or observations of myself,” he said. “Most of the really vitriolic songs I’ve written have been observations of myself.”

Imperial Room received widespread acclaim, reaching No. 6 in the UK charts and the Top 40 in the US. The LP also convinced Costello to refocus on the here and now.

“The important things to me are the melody, the words, the way you sing them, all the little innuendos you can put into them – and most of all, the feeling behind them,” he added. “But I hate this precious idea that every song has to be the Sermon on the Mount. The songs I’m writing for my next album will be about everything that’s going to happen to me between now and when we start recording again – and that’s is what it’s all about, really . It’s all about life.”

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