Elvis Costello, the Jimmy Connors of New Wave, has grown up. No longer does he storm off stage after sneering at his audience for thirty minutes: Elvis now reportedly sticks around long enough to please even his most ardent fans. No longer does he vent his hostilities at unsuspecting interviewers; in fact, while on the Tom Snyder show recently, Mr. Costello was actually quite friendly. Elvis has even gone so far as to apologize for insulting Ray Charles with a racial derogative, an act which earned him a fist in the face from Blues-singer Bonnie Bramlett.
Elvis Costello's latest release, Trust, reflects the recent removal of his mean streak. The cover of the album depicts Elvis with a near-smile on his face. His large tinted glasses rest low on his nose, revealing a friendly set of skyward-gazing eyes. Elvis seems to be signifying that the emotional barriers which have earned him the title of "Rock's brat" have been lowered. If eyes are the windows to the soul, then Elvis apparently wants us to look in and see that he isn't such a bad guy after all. Even the album title implies this new image. Elvis is telling his fans to trust that he will no longer waste their money by playing for a scant half-hour; interviewers can trust him not to be withdrawn, defensive, and venomous; and fellow musicians can trust him to be a comrade rather than an indignant drunk.
With Trust, Elvis Costello and his band, The Attractions, exhibit a new-found diversity of musical styles. On previous albums, Costello and band have sounded somewhat repetitious, with similar guitar, keyboard, and vocal characteristics on most songs. On Trust, however, Elvis and the Attractions experiment with various new styles. One of the most out-of-the-ordinary is "Shot With His Own Gun," in which Elvis sings very melodramatically and is backed only by a concert piano. While on "Different Finger," Costello exhibits a Rockabilly sound. Some of the new songs display obvious influence from other musicians: "Lovers Walk" incorporates a Bo Diddley beat; "Luxembourg" sounds similar to the very-early Beatles; and the opening guitar lead on "Strict Time" is akin to the beginning of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light." With these songs, Costello seems to be paying tribute to those who have influenced him over the years.
Costello's singing on Trust is also somewhat different than it has been in the past. The songs on the new album can be divided into categories: those in which Elvis slurs his words, and those in which the words are carefully enunciated. Costello's singing has never been so hard to understand as with some of the new songs; and at the same time, other new cuts contain singing which is unmatched in ease•of listening. A lyric sheet would have been very helpful with such songs as "Luxembourg," which defies intelligibility. "Watch Your Step" however, is so carefully enunciated that one can hear every breath taken by the near-whispering Costello.
After four critically acclaimed albums, Elvis Costello has gone out on a limb to experiment with new styles. Some of the changes are for the better (the musical diversity), while others are for the worse (his occasional unintelligible vocalizing). Only time will tell which styles recur, and if Elvis' new nice-guy image will remain.
Album courtesy of Square Records.