And the best album of 1982 is… Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom.
Over the next two weeks I’ll feature albums unfamiliar to me that topped critics lists in 1982. When searching for those titles, I often came across Costello’s baroque pop masterpiece, knowing full well that it would top my own list. The album topped the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll that year. It’s the record that really cemented Costello as a critical favorite.
It was also, along with King of America, my first exposure to Costello. Not coincidentally, those two albums remain my favorites and, with a gun to my head, I’d likely give this one the nod as his finest work.
Imperial Bedroom is both a songwriting triumph and a marvel of studio production. Costello recruited Geoff Emerick, sound engineer on some of The Beatles’ best records, to produce the album and that Sgt. Pepper spirit of invention shines through.
Costello was never more inventive with his songcraft, either, from the propulsive word salad of opening track ‘Beyond Belief’ to the languid string balladry of closer ‘Town Cryer.’ Standouts ‘Shabby Doll’ and ‘Man Out of Time’ don’t sound quite like anything else from the era. They’re the reason a generation of smart songwriters to come looked to Costello as an influence.
On the other hand, today’s SOTD, ‘Almost Blue,’ is a lovely old-school torch ballad, memorably covered by Chet Baker but given its definitive performance here.
Almost doing things we used to do
There’s a girl here and she’s almost you
All the things that your eyes once promised
I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying
Flirting with this disaster became me
It named me as the fool who only aimed to be
It’s almost touching it will almost do
There’s a part of me that’s always true… always
Not all good things come to an end now, it is only a chosen few
I have seen such an unhappy couple
You’ll get no argument from me on this selection. Unlike the other albums you highlighted this week, this one wasn’t anywhere near my radar screen in 1982. It didn’t become known to me until about 6 years later when my friend gave me a copy on cassette, along with King of America, Best of Costello and a collection of Elvis’ B sides/bonus tracks.
It’s interesting to me that the album appears on so many critics’ lists as I had always been under the impression that the record had not been particularly well received. Perhaps the album’s detractors have changed their opinion over the years.
I’m also surprised that you hadn’t featured “Almost Blue” before today. It’s a beauty that I think can be appreciated by even those who would not consider themselves Costello fans. Indeed, the album is such a lavish stylistic departure from the punk rock many associate with Costello that I suspect those same non-fans might well appreciate and enjoy most of not all the other tracks.
This is my first time listening to this song; it’s just wonderful. Now I know why Diana Krall married him 🙂