Elvis Costello's new record is entitled "Trust." Imagine Leonid Brezhnev writing a book titled "Civil Liberties" or Norman Mailer writing a treatise on "Humility," and you've got the idea.
The goad news about Trust is that it has a full-bodied sound. The songs jump out and grab your attention. This is as much to producer Nick Lowe's credit as Costello's. Lowe smoothes out Costello's rough edges with a lush grand piano that has sadly replaced that wonderfully cheesy organ that pulsed on 1978's This Year's Model.
The drums and bass that were muted on last year's Get Happy!! are mixed out front on Trust. But with these silly Liberace flourishes tinkling from the piano, Costello sounds like the full-fledged cocktail lounge crooner he's always aspired to be instead of the electric singer he can be.
The standard line about Costello these days is that he has "mellowed," whatever that means. If it's true, you wouldn't know it from his writing. I do miss the days when you could count on him for some of the best killer lines in rock 'n' roll. This is the guy, after all who wrote in "Watching the Detectives," "Though it nearly took a miracle; To get you to stay; It only took my little fingers; To blow you away." Nothing on Trust packs a wallop like that one, but good writing is everywhere.
The twists and turns of speech just aren't trotted out with as much flair as they used to be, Costello says it best when be sings "Pretty words don't mean much anymore."
But the melodies are as punchy as ever. "Clubland," "Lovers Walk," "You'll Never Be a Man" and "Strict Time," are all no-nonsense tunes that get straight to the point. The best song is "From a Whisper to a Scream," in which Costello and Glen Tilbrook trade lead vocals over the fury of Pete Thomas' drumming.
The lemon of the bunch is "Shot With His Own Gun," which sounds like a Rodgers and Hart reject. Costello sings with a lame, gaudy piano dishing up melodramatic crescendoes worthy of a bad vaudeville act.
"Different Finger," "Fish 'n' Chip Paper and "White Knuckles," are mediocre fillers, and "Big Sister's Clothes," the woozy closing song, does enough damage to think twice about trusting so shady a character as Elvis Costello. If this is his best offer of trust, bring on some suspicion and Jealousy.