Boston College Heights, February 2, 1981

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The true aim of Elvis Costello


Pat Flaherty

Trust? Really Elvis, you want us to trust you?

Ever since day one Elvis the Costello has been under fire for being a calculated, contrived act; the name of the king, the Buddy Holly look, the Manzarek keyboards, a hotshot pop producer, and that British new wave angry young man approach to song writing. Elvis never bothered to deny the allegations. How could he, they were all true. Before smashing open the new wave door with his first album, My Aim is True, and the barroom piano tune "Allison," he was a computer programmer singing country and western songs in London bars under his real name, Declan McManus.

Now he taunts us. The inside sleeve of his new album, Trust, gives us Elvis doing a Buddy Holly stage presentation complete with the record company touring horn and string sections a la Holly on his final, fateful tour. Bruce Thomas, the Attractions bassist even poses with a stand up bass right out of the Crickets. There's a pic of Elvis putting on a Bogie, and the back cover not only gives us the credits in cinema fashion but reveals Elvis fulfilling his fantasy of being Burt Bacharach.

Elvis Costello is a thoroughly thought out act, not only in image and appearance, but musically as well. He understands pop, he is aware of and uses his roots effectively and consistently comes up with great music. Elvis' C&W background has moved further to the forefront in his past few albums. Although his straight ahead country tunes can drag, (when you've heard one country song...) when they are shot through with new wave rock they come to life. "Watch Your Step" from the new record is an uptempo country song which uses an organ to imitate a slide guitar.

I still contend that Elvis Costello wants to be Burt Bacharach, (remember that early cover song.) singing quiet ballads at the piano in a nightclub on the east side. When "Shot With His Own Gun", "Big Sister's Clothes" or "You'll Never Be a Man" plays, the lights dim, the room fills with smoke and cocktail glasses start tinkling. The same thing used to happen with "Allison."

Elvis' lyrics are what really make him a consistent success. His music may be danceable pop or sweet piano melodies but his lyrics are biting visions of reality which oscillate from cynical send ups to nihilistic come downs. Elvis may wear rose tinted spectacles, but his outlook is stone cold blue.

Trust, Elvis' sixth album, is a great Costello record. Elvis always gives you your money's worth, there are fourteen songs. Although I thought Get Happy gave us too much that wasn't enough, Trust hits the mark. There isn't anything earth-shattering about the new album except its consistency. Elvis always turns out a good solid record. Try asking your friends which Costello album is the best, you won't get a consensus, they're all of equal worth. Elvis has his formula down cold. At the same time he's too intelligent to let it get stale (unlike corporate formula rock like Styx, Kansas, Boston who reach new depths of sterility with each release). He is an amazing musical craftsman. His shows are slick and well executed. He commands the stage just as he commands the record.

Trust is highlighted by the haunting "Shot With His Own Gun", the hopping "Clubland", and the rocking "White Knuckles", "Strict Time", and "Fish 'n' Chip Papers." All are fine examples of the refined musical style of Elvis Costello.

Trust? He doesn't really want us to. Elvis is as real as those figures on the silver screen, but that doesn't take any of the fun out of it. Elvis makes great music, you can count on him anytime. Count on Trust. Elvis Costello and the Attractions are a well cast show with a superb screenplay.

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The Heights, February 2, 1981


Pat Flaherty reviews Trust.

Images

1981-02-02 Boston College Heights page 15 clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1981-02-02 Boston College Heights page 15.jpg
Page scan.

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