Beaver County Times, February 11, 1981

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Elvis Costello: Not a bad guy after all

Elvis Costello / Trust

Doug Gebhard

As the title subtly implies. it takes a lot to trust Elvis Costello, but just where that agreement begins and ends for each listener depends on many things.

One term of the contract certainly demands the listener trust the enigmatic Costello's motives at the outset. Another condition is accepting that the balance of power between the sexes, teetering since the eruption of the women's movement, has to be altogether redefined and realigned... the haphazard and wanton destruction of feminine power and sensibilities by thoughtless men accustomed to shoving the rest of the world around is on a collision course with itself, without any liability in the policy!

It may seem improbable. but this latest album by contemporary rock's most flamboyant and ebullient performer could be a major assist In the struggle. Elvis Costello is finally facing up to a lot.

A relief from the jam-packed 20-song success of last year's Get Happy, Trust delivers 14 Elvis Costello songs in a setting that is at once familiar and unsettling, something like a doctor's office.

His fascination with American R&B, which popped up in the repertoire of Get Happy with a Sam and Dave obscurity and his single of Van McCoy's "Getting Mighty Crowded," again surfaces much more realized and matured, owing as much to Motown riffs as to funk techniques (especially vocalizing ala "rapping").

What is unsettling, and the only detracting element to what is otherwise his most complete and fulfilling album to date, is the hidden vocals and lost words buried in the Nick Lowe production. (Lowe, also a member of the group Rockpile and a pop-oldster himself, has produced all of Costello's albums so far.)

Past Lowe endeavors have rescued recordings (most notably Graham Parker's excellent but overlooked Stick To Me) that might have ended up lackluster but for his knack of catching vocal phrasings in his own unique recording style.

What nuances and flavors Costello attempts on Trust more times than not are lost awash the highs and lows of the backing Attractions' riveting rhythm.

The successes overshadow the failures as the content, and not the form, eventually wins out. It is in this respect that the visionary talents of Costello, the phenomenon many Americans thought a passing phase out of England, surge and leap beyond expectations.

The rage and manic fear surrounding him in My Aim Is True is replaced with the insight of a new man. Knock-down brawls are out; guerrilla warfare is in.

Attacking the masculine "divide and conquer" mystique in "You'll Never Be A Man" by castigating fellow wrongdoers with "You'll never be a man / No matter how many foreign bodies you take in" and then asking "Are you so superior'? / Are you in such pain'? / Are you made of porcelain?" Tough-guy attitudes have no place in his new-world vision, and the male-dominated power base is dusted away with the simple plea "I don't wanna be first / I just wanna last."

The temptation to lay laurels on Costello's thorny brow is much easier since he's fessed up and come clean to past indignations. But still for many hearing him rip open the wounds of malformed social myths will be viewed as a ploy to entice a broader audience, and yet for others the mere accessibility of his music — the easy-to-take ballads, the light funk and swing of his Motownish rockers — is reason to dismiss Trust as nothing more than another vinyl offering from an artist who made one good album and went dry, just like America's oil wells.

That's a shame, because there's still a lot under the ground of ol' Elvis C., and those who trivialize his impact on music need not look any further than English and American critics' top choice lists for the year or sales charts to see that the British Invasion is still raging and Elvis' popularity still on the rise.

The grandiose, candelabra-lit "Shot With His Own Gun" and the seemingly innocent "White Knuckles" are examples of trust within the context of this album — surface structures lure you to the devastating text below,

The former, sung with piano accompaniment, comes off like Rachmaninoff in a howitzer casing, its mood thoughtful and contemplative. But beneath that extravagant facade is the story of the death of the "self" replete with double entendres and innuendos Freud would wallow In.

"White Knuckles," similar to many of Get Happy's up-tempo pop songs, shyly tells the tale of a wife beater. It hits you like a fist stuffed with a roll of quarters In a line that reads liken detective magazine quip, "he didn't mean to hit her / but she kept on laughing."

Mingling the accessible pop music we've comp to take for granted from him with the grim horror tale of his character, Costello gives lie to the Impression he doesn't care and couldn't punch his way out of an emotional paper bag.

Unfortunately, too many of what appear to be great songs are laid waste by the barrage of echo and mushed vocals.

"Clubland" (British single), "Luxembourg" (Jerry Lee Lewis rocker) and "Lovers Walk" (a Bo Diddley-cum-Salsa rap song that echoes Buddy Holly with the line "Will you look at what love has done") have crier. voting and exciting music, but are rJasily forgotten. All the Windex in We USA couldn't clean away the dirty view that obscures the words (presumably) hidden behind it.

When Trust is good, it is very, very good and when It is bad ... well, it ain't so bad.

The throwaway country ballad "Different Finger" has a George Jones tag all over it (much like Costello's "Stranger In The House" Jones covered) and the self-produced closing number "Big Sister's Clothes" (like the quirky stuff he released last year on a four-song LP) are exercises in verbal acrobatics Ind are typical Costello-ese, making hem superior to the most of the dross recorded today.

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Beaver County Times, February 11, 1981


Doug Gebhard reviews Trust.

Images

1981-02-11 Beaver County Times clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1981-02-11 Beaver County Times page D2.jpg
Page scan.

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