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