Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

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  • Imperial Bedroom finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Geoff Emerick engineered, creating a unique sound – forget the painfully bad domestics, these imports are the only way to go
  • This dense, darkly serious album contains some of the best songs EC ever wrote – the last of his True Classics
  • 5 stars: “Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics…the detail and the ornate arrangements immediately peg Imperial Bedroom as Costello’s most ambitious album.”

Six of Elvis’s first seven albums received a Five Star rating from Allmusic, the exception being Almost Blue, and we generally would agree with that assessment (although Get Happy should probably get Four Stars also, not Five).

Which is to say that Elvis Costello is a brilliant artist whose albums work as albums, a fact that is in danger of being lost in a world of single song downloads and greatest hits packages. We record-playing audiophiles are inclined to start at the beginning of a side and let it flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man.

This vintage British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Imperial Bedroom have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1982
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Best Pressings Have

Midrangy sound. Some of that sound is baked-in so to speak. Geoff Emerick and Costello were not going for anything like the sound of Armed Forces or Trust (their two best sounding albums from an audiophile perspective). They wanted Imperial Bedroom to have its own sound, a sound unique to this one album, and they clearly succeeded in carrying out that desire.

Which is a long way of saying that if you get a bad sounding copy of the album, don’t be surprised. Most of them sound that way; the margin for error in the mastering and pressing stages is close to zero.

What We’re Listening For on Imperial Bedroom

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

British Only

The best British imports have the fullest, richest, most natural, least-EQ’d sound. The more of that sound they have — along with freedom from smear, good frequency extension, vocal presence, rock energy, studio space and the like — the higher the sonic grade.

No domestic copies we’ve ever played were all that much better than awful by the way. Like most Elvis Costello albums — but not all, an important caveat — the British pressings are the only way to go if you are looking for audiophile sound.

Ah, but which British pressings? That’s the question, one which we have devoted most of our waking hours to answering. It took us a long time to get here, but we now have the copy — this very one — that sounds the way we always wanted Imperial Bedroom to sound. There will most likely not be another of this caliber on the site for a long, long time.

TRACK LISTING

With a sampling of some of our favorite lyrics.

Side One

Beyond Belief

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

[chorus]

I’ve got a feeling
I’m going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed 
so appealing
Now I am 
beyond belief

Tears Before Bedtime 
Shabby Doll 
The Long Honeymoon 
Man Out of Time 
Almost Blue 

Almost blue
Almost doing things 
we used to do
There’s a girl here
and she’s almost you
Almost 
All the things that your eyes once promised
I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying

And in Every Home

Side Two

The Loved Ones

Don’t get smart 
or sarcastic
He snaps back 
just like elastic
Spare us the theatrics 
and the verbal gymnastics
We break wise guys
just like matchsticks

Human Hands 
Kid About It 
Little Savage 
Boy With a Problem 
Pidgin English 
You Little Fool 
Town Cryer

AMG Review

Having gotten country out of his system with Almost Blue, Elvis Costello returned to pop music with Imperial Bedroom — and it was pop in the classic, Tin Pan Alley sense. Costello chose to hire Geoff Emerick, who engineered all of the Beatles’ most ambitious records, to produce Imperial Bedroom, which indicates what it sounds like — it’s traditional pop with a post-Sgt. Pepper production.

Essentially, the songs on Imperial Bedroom are an extension of Costello’s jazz and pop infatuations on Trust. Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics.

The interweaving layers of “Beyond Belief” and the whirlwind intro are the most overtly dark sounds on the record, with most of the album given over to the orchestrated, melancholy torch songs and pop singles.

Never once do Costello & the Attractions deliver a rock & roll song — the album is all about sonic detail, from the accordion on “The Long Honeymoon” to the lilting strings on “Town Cryer.”

Of course, the detail and the ornate arrangements immediately peg Imperial Bedroom as Costello’s most ambitious album