Would you buy a used car from Elvis Costello? Is his aim really true? I wouldn't worry since the only product Elvis seems concerned with pushing upon us is one of expectedly high quality. As with just about everything else the man has thus far recorded, Costello's most recent musical offering, Trust, contains words and music well worth listening to, thinking about, and believing in.
As I write this review, I'm reminded of a disturbing quote I came across in one of those rock magazines (?) which caters to pre-pubescent lovers of truly fine music (Kiss, Black Sabbath, etc.). It seems that Mr. Eddie Van Halen, of the group of the same name which specializes in producing loud noises for the young, drunk, and stupid, has developed a theory about his band's distinct lack of critical acclaim. According to Van Halen, "Most rock critics love Elvis Costello 'cause most rock critics look like Elvis Costello." Van Halen's statement cannot be dismissed as merely amusing sour grapes for it reveals an attitude which borders on a certain rock 'n' roll fascism, a sick belief in a heavy metal master race.
Elvis represents a refreshingly humane alternative to the odious vinyl trash which often infests our airwaves. Despite his cynical reputation. Costello, in his own peculiar manner, truly cares about us. He really wants to know "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" In this way, Elvis' latest album is his most personal work since it directly records his musical observations and anguish as he looks at the world around him. Though titled "Trust," this disc might more appropriately be called "Betrayal" because what Elvis C. observes around him, despite his new rose-colored shades, is none too heartwarming.
The world Costello sees is drifting dangerously to the right, toward a reactionary reality, a Jerry Falwell-land of the mind. For example, in his catchy yet apocalyptic "Strict Time," Elvis urges us to "Toughen up. toughen up, keep your lips buttoned up" in our world of televised "weekend witch trials" in which:
All the boys are strait-laced,
And the girls are frigid.
The dog is two-faced.
And the rules are rigid,
'Cause it's Strict Time.
Clearly, somebody's been Taking Liberties and Elvis is quite rightly finding it increasingly difficult to Get Happy.
Throughout Trust, nobody comes to our hero's, or for that matter, anyone else's, emotional or philosophic rescue. Romantic entanglements inevitably cause more pain than pleasure. Costello cautions us to stay clear of the always hazardous "Lovers Walk" where we might be hit by one of the "emotional ricochets" which are a common appearance in Elvis' world. Love is constantly being faked simply because, as he sings in "Big Sisters Clothes," "It's easier to say 'I Love You' than 'Yours Sincerely.' I suppose." To Elvis, love is not the final answer because there are no final answers to be found.
Elsewhere on Trust, Costello deals with some themes not commonly associated with the pop song format. On "White Knuckles," Elvis expresses both his confusion and anger over the predicament of wife-beaters. He wonders whether, "Maybe they weren't loved when they were young, maybe they should be hung by their tongues." "Fish 'N' Chip Paper," a tune with rinky-dink instrumentation which reminds one of the Get Happy!! album, attacks the press by reminding the listener that yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish 'n' chip paper."
Musically, Trust reminds me more of Costello's Armed Forces disc, complete with Nick Lowe's lusty, pure pop production, than any of Elvis' more recent work. One interesting change is the newfound dominance of Steve Nieve's delicate acoustic keyboard work (and as a result, a definite reduction on the old Farfisa organ sound). Pete Thomas' drumming shows him to be a far more versatile musician than his earlier work suggested.
The back-cover of Trust shows Elvis Costello and the Attractions posed for a still from some imaginary movie. This cinematic suggestions got me thinking of a similarity between the latest works of Costello and that of my favorite celluloid shlemiel, Woody Allen. Throughout his fascinating Stardust Memories, Allen showed himself being reminded by fans that "I liked you're earlier, funnier films better!" Both Woody and Elvis are artists who won (some of) our hearts by presenting something fresh and exciting, who now must contend with critics and fans who would deny them the inherent need for a creative individual to grow and find new challenges. As for myself, I find Elvis' new album, complete with 14 Trustworthy tracks, a thoughtful effort. This is an album not to be missed: Trust me.