Clarkson University Integrator, March 3, 1981

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Elvis Costello maturing on Trust


Scott Schnackenberg

Elvis Costello can say more in a three minute song than most artists can in a whole album. On Trust the richness of his lyrics, his vocal phrasing and timing, his new found vocal range, and his use of puns, double entendre, and rearranged cliche's all help to give the songs multiple levels of interpretation and meaning.

Take, for example, "White Knuckles," a song about wife beating. Costello leaves it up to the listener to decide who is to blalme, if anyone, for the situation.

"Maybe they weren't loved when they were young
Maybe they should be hung by their tongues...
...White knuckles on black and blue skin
Didn't mean to hit her but she kept laughing
White knuckles sweating on the headboard
Never found out what the kisser was for
White knuckles on black and blue skin
You don't have to take it so you just give in"

Is it the individual or the society? Is it the husband or the wife? Is the kisser something to smack your lips or your fist against? For Costello, there are no easy answers. Elvis is maturing, and his viewpoint is maturing along with him. On Get Happy!!! he spent the whole album trying to win his girl back with his eloquent wordplay. Now he's come to the conclusion that "pretty words don't mean much anymore." On his debut album he dreamed of taking someone else's wife to bed, but dreaming was as far as he got ("Sneaky Feelings"). Now he's taking her to bed and feeling guilty about it ("Different Finger"). Elvis has even come to terms with the tassels that marred his last US tour, acknowledging in "You'll Never Be a Man" that "although the fist is mightier than the lip it leads to aggravation."

Musically the album is also an expansion. Costello has always had a knack for writing melodies that will have you singing in the shower. The major revelation on Trust is Elvis' singing. He uses the lower registers of his voice much more frequently and with great results, especially in the chorus of "New Lace Sleeves" where both his low voice and his falsetto combine to contrast "white lies" with "the lies that you believe." The pace of the songs is slowed down enough so that for the first time most of the words. are understandable. This makes it easier to savor Elvis' unique phrasing. This allows him to sing the phrase "you better watch your step" and supply it with a different meaning each time he sings it.

Instrumentally, Steve Nieve is the heart of the Attractions with his mastery of various styles on the keyboards. The classical piano break in "Clubland" is one of the highlights of the album. Nieve provides dramatic piano playing on the stark "Shot With His Own Gun" and colorful farfisa playing on the light-hearted "Fish n Chip Paper." His ability to adapt to the mood of the song gives each song a distinct personality. Elvis' guitar playing is strictly rhythm and is not noteworthy. The rhythm section of Bruce and Pete Thomas compliments Nieve's virtuosity and provides a strong backdrop for the melodies.

Elvis Costello is a master at revealing the feelings underneath the surface of everyday life and love. His songs are hummable and unthreatening on the surface, but underneath lurks conflict and complexity. The last song on Trust is the quiet and anti-climactic "Big Sister's Clothes" in which "it's easier to say 'I love you' than 'yours sincerely.'" You have to make an effort to fully appreciate the depth of Costello's songs. He is more subtle than songwriters like Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel, and because of that his albums are ultimately more rewarding.

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Clarkson Integrator, March 3, 1981


Scott Schnackenberg reviews Trust.

Images

1981-03-31 Clarkson University Integrator page 10 clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1981-03-31 Clarkson University Integrator page 10.jpg
Page scan.

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