Creem, December 1980

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Costello's inventory closeout:
B-sides, 'A' material

Elvis Costello / Taking Liberties

Billy Altman

You gotta hand it to CBS. Having suffered through the promotional and marketing difficulties that the jam-packed, 20-song-crammed Get Happy!! presented (they never got clear which songs to "push" and Elvis Costello chose not to tour last year "in support" of the record and indeed, the only good publicity on behalf of the album was Costello's K-Tel-styled TV advert which played to millions of turned-off sets at such prime times as 9 a.m. on Saturdays), here they come with Taking Liberties, another 20 song single LP made up of all those B-Sides, obscuros, and teaseroo unreleased tracks. Dig those hep liner notes! Wonder what they'll do with this one. Talk about biting back those feeding hands.

Of course, I seem to recall Columbia having had its share of difficulties through most of the early 60's with a certain Mr. Zimmerman and damned if these parallels between Dylan and Elvis just keep getting more and more obvious, and I'm not just talkin’ stage names either. Or hadn't you noticed that both of them showed up out of nowhere right in the thick of a new musical movement? How both, almost from the moment they got established, started crossing every one up by heading towards varying, almost contrary directions? Go ahead, slap on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and follow it with "Pump It Up," which moves with the same pace and structure, utilizes the same quick-cut imagery, and we all know which pump it is anyway, right? I could go on, but since Taking Liberties is the main topic here, we can bridge things with the last verse of Van McCoy's "Gettin' Mighty Crowded," on which Costello's "hangin' arowwwnd won't do me no goooood" is right up there with Levi Stubbs on "Reach Out" for spiffo Dylan appropriations. (Call me A. J.)

Budding Costellogians are already filing away the chorus from "Clean Money" ("You won't take my love for tender") and, more importantly, the various references to currency — cash and/or plastic — abounding through such songs as "Sunday's Best” and "Crawling To The U.S.A." ("Attach me to your credit card and then you can undress me"). Shrewd devil that he is, Costello keeps everyone on their toes throughout most of his songs (these Attractions work for their money) and if you blink, you're apt to miss some of the cliche twisting and punning that are becoming his trademarks. For me, on this album, the most interesting things crop up where you'd least expect them, like Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" (Get Happy!! is as much about the necessary precision work of lyrics and melody as it is about the history of Motown and Stax and the reading of this song neatly fore-shadowed that increasing sense of care, about how compact you can make a song and still make it count; Costello just might be the only traditional young songwriter around right now). And the absolutely awesome "Just A Memory," 2:14 of voice and Steve Nieve's swirling keyboards and lyrics that wind around themselves tighter and tighter: "Lying' about layin' in bed / Maybe it was something that I thought I said... The pen that I write with won't tell the truth... It's the moments that I can't recall are moments that you treasure / Better take another measure for measure... Losing you is just a memory / Memories don't mean that much to me." There are stops along the road here that reveal much, from the lonesome resignation of "Hoover Factory" ("It's not a matter of life or death, what is? / It doesn't matter if I take another breath, who cares?") to the hypnotic landscapes of doom in "Night Rally" and "Ghost Train" and the abject rage of "Tiny Steps" ("She's your baby now, you can keep her” — when Costello gets ugly, he certainly gets ugly).

Elvis Costello still hasn't worked out all the kinks in his writing — I still cringe when I hear things like “you lack lust, you're so lacklustre" or the rhyming of Elsie with Chelsea in the Seeds-styled "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," but there is so much crackling energy and unbridled talent running through most of Costello's recent work that one is at most times justifiably non-plussed. Realizing that a supposed "major talent" like Jackson Browne will take, at his present pace, five albums and 12 years to simply match the number of songs Costello's given us in less than 12 months, it makes you stop and think about who's fooling who in these days of diminished expectations. I guess Elvis Costello wasn't kidding when he said that he didn't intend to be around for his own artistic decline.

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Creem, December 1981

Billy Altman reviews Taking Liberties.


1980-12-00 Creem page 52.jpg
Page scan.

Photo by Keith Morris.
1980-12-00 Creem photo 01 km.jpg

1980-12-00 Creem cover.jpg


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