Elvis Peeks Under the Sheets in the "Imperial Bedroom"
It's confusing, but not as confusing and confounding as reading the densely packed lyrics that were splayed across the original F-Beat's white and black inner sleeve minus punctuation and paragraphing. Making matters more difficult, the original inner sleeve had a hole on one side interrupting the lyrical word flow. The missing die-cutout words appeared on the second side's label. To read the lyrics in their entirety you had to insert the record in the sleeve and line it up just so.
Imperial Bedroom was Costello's first album of original material not produced by Nick Lowe. Instead, Geoff Emerick produced at George Martin's AIR Studios—a long way in time and concept from Islington's tiny Pathway Studios where My Aim is True was recorded for about £1000.
Costello's success gave him the financial means to play in the studio as never before and the sessions lasted three months during which time songs were written and re-written, arrangements were experimented with and Geoff Emerick was able to produce, for better or worse, complex sonics not before heard on an Elvis Costello album. The arrangements too, are varied and complex and don't follow a particular theme or style.
Coming after the warm and inviting Trust, arguably Costello's best sounding albums, Imperial Bedroom sounded busy and at times perhaps overproduced. Some complained then and now that the sound is somewhat glazed over and compressed but perhaps there's a good reason for that. In fact, the original tracking was produced live to eight track much as Trust had been produced. Only snippets of those sessions survived and made their way onto the final album.
But first, the music! Though Costello, perhaps ironically calls this an "optimistic" record, lyrically the songs dealing with relationships were dark! Just look at the worn, exhausted looks on the faces. "Almost Blue," clearly a result of Costello's Nashville "adventure" brought particular pain to me, entering my home after a painful breakup. The lyrics popped into my head with every pathetic dating experience thereafter. Thanks E.C.!
I wish I could reproduce Costello's Ryko liner notes because they go into great detail about much of the production, but I can't. You can spend months to forever peering into the production's nooks and crannies to uncover things like the 12 string run through a Hammond Leslie speaker on "Shabby Doll" or some of Emerick's trademarked reverb tricks. There's so much going on beyond the sophisticated wordplay and melodic invention that some thought that between the complexity of the production, the arrangements and the all-around cleverness, core emotional values were buried under the gloss. Not what I thought, but what some did.
I thought at the time that the writing took Costello's art to a new, lofty level, even if Trust, overall produced a greater emotional tug. And I still think that today. Costello runs the emotional voodoo down in that "imperial" bedroom and if you've been through the mill, you'll relate!
Sonically, the album always had greatness underneath and glaze on top. Some of it was tracked while George Martin and Paul McCartney worked down the hall on some of Tug of War with Geoff Emerick engineering. That album was recorded analog and according to the back of the jacket was "mixed digitally." Was Imperial Bedroom produced the same way? That's kind of what it sounds like. If that's the case, as long as Mobile Fidelity got the original digital master, it wouldn't be a cover fib.
I compared this Mo-Fi reissue with a UK original F-Beat mastered by "NOEL" (Sommerville), who worked at Pye when this album was first issued, with a German F-Beat that was mastered at the always excellent STRAWBERRY mastering, a facility owned by 10CC, with a FIEND reissue (E.C.'s label) with a Japanese pressing. Yes, clearly I like this album, with its Beatlesque orchestration on "....and in Every Home" its opening drama on "Beyond Belief," the tear jerking on "Almost Blue", the vitriol of "You LIttle Fool" the pathos of "Man Out of Time", oh I could go on!
But maybe in part I was also searching for and never finding a really great sounding version—especially after the exquisite sounding Trust. The original F-Beat has a taut, rhythmically satisfying pace and great transparency, though it's somewhat flat and bright. The Strawberry is warmer but I prefer the original to it. The Japanese has the usual clarity, drop dead quiet backgrounds and attenuated bass and the Mobile-Fidelity is the warmest and ultimately most satisfying sounding because it adds body to both Costello's voice and the bass line without sludge-ing it up. It's got more depth than the others, plus better inner detail resolution. Any of these is better than the original Columbia version by the way, that's not even in the running.
If you have and like an original UK NOEL cut F-Beat, you probably don't need this but otherwise, and especially if you only have the drab Columbia original, Mo-Fi's reissue breathes new life into a great E.C. album whatever the actual source technology. I write this without asking Mobile Fidelity but I'm sure if the master was analog tape I'm going to hear from them and you from me!
I assume by now you know where the "PABLO SI" can be found on the PIcasso-inspired cover art.