Carleton University Charlatan, February 19, 1981

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Carleton University Charlatan

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Trusting the old with the new

Elvis Costello and the Attractions / Trust

Bruce Simpson

Trust, the title of Elvis Costello's latest album, has no exclamatory marks like Get Happy!! or mental militaristic symbolism like Armed Forces. Instead, it simply requests a trust — as if such a bond would be a simple feat to accomplish. But, as Costello outlines in the album's 14 songs, that trust doesn't come easy.

The wasteland Costello depicts is one of broken dreams, failed love and a despairing impotency, and further continuation of Costello's cynical view of life But to deduce the lyrics as declarations of the Costello psyche would be to misjudge the man. He is too shrewdly clever to allow people to see the real Costello. In the meantime, he gives us his disaffected persona.

His unique cleverness is most evident in this latest batch of songs. Costello is not as adventuresome a songwriter as he appears, usually taking a basic frame of a tune and fleshing out the melody. Many of the songs on Trust have been recycled from previous Costello songs. In this respect, Trust serves as a perfect summation of the styles Costello has covered in his career. But, instead of merely rehashing, Costello displays an exciting ability to alter the melody and arrangements to make something new out of the old. Even if the songs do sound patterned on others, they stand up on their own artistic merit.

An important part of this renovation has to do with the arrangements. Nick Lowe has once again kept a clean sound in recording Costello's sparse arrangements, but the resulting sound is far from empty. Costello plays more guitar than he did on Get Happy!!, but the weight usually falls on Steve Nieve's keyboards Playing both piano and organ, the breaks which Nieve introduces into the songs capture the imagination. On "Lover's Walk," a Latinized Bo Diddley riff, his tinkling ivories bounce over Pete Thomas' flurried but concise drum pattern while Costello chants a litany about love The same effect crops up again in "Strict Time," if in a less frantic manner.

The vocal duet between Costello and Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook on "From A Whisper To A Scream" is inspired by the way the two trade-off lines in the controlled pacing of a rocker.

The bitter indictment of failure is what drives such songs as "Watch Your Step," "Fish 'n' Chip Paper," and "New Lace Sleeves." Costello is still angry, but in a more refined, channelled manner.

Only the stridently melodramatic "Shot With His Own Gun" cannot sustain the bare arrangement (Costello on voice, Nieve on piano) but almost manages due to its hauntingly morbid lyrics about incest and murder.

Without doubt, Costello is one of the best songwriters of the moment; when one talks about pop sensibilities and a songwriter whose lyrics mean something, Costello's name is mandatory in the discussion The evidence is the wealth of material the man has produced in his short three-year career. Costello's creative imagination is a trust which has been earned.

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The Charlatan, February 19, 1981


Bruce Simpson reviews Trust.

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1981-02-19 Carleton University Charlatan page 10 clipping 01.jpg
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1981-02-19 Carleton University Charlatan page 10.jpg
Page scan.

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