The world's fastest songwriter takes on the American public with another bewildering collection of twenty tunes. Elvis Costello's new album, Taking Liberties, shows off the depth and versatility of the enigmatic, often controversial singer-songwriting sensation.
The songs, a collection of B-sides and unreleased material, draw on country, R&B, folk, Punk and pop as their sources. The strongest material dates from the This Year's Model era, featuring the swirling Vox organ of Steve Naive. The lyrics, dealing with subjects like Fascism and personal rejection, project a general feeling of insignificance in the face of the Modern World. All hints of pretension are removed by Elvis' ambiguous tone and acerbic wit.
But the truly outstanding feature of the album is Elvis' singing. Alternately bitter and poignant, his vocals belie the detached sarcasm of the lyrics and give the seemingly scatter-shot choice of material a central unity and strength. He reinforces his public criticism of Linda Ronstadt by including the compositions she covered on Mad Love, "Girls Talk" and "Talking in the Dark." By comparison, Ronstadt's versions are lifeless, and fail to convey the irony and subtleties of the compositions. Elvis shows off a quieter side on many of the songs, and reveals his vocal technical excellence on a cover version of the Rodgers-Hart standard, "My Funny Valentine."
Not a collection of songs for beginners, Taking Liberties is for the listener who demands more from his music than album-oriented Rock can supply. For those familiar with Elvis, it provides as much challenge and enjoyment as an album of new material. Elvis is one of the few artists left in the Rock world willing to take risks, and on Taking Liberties, the risks pay off.