Elvis Costello, since 1977, has released five albums, all of a highly emotional and personal quality. His newet, Taking Liberties, is that fifth album. Twenty more songs, bursting with metaphors, spoonerisms, cliches turned on their head, and covering the entire range of popular music, mark another triumph for this young artist from England. Refusing to compromise any quality, Costello has penned almost eighty songs in the past three years, an awesome amount by any standard. The songs on Taking Liberties are all the songs that there wasn't room for on his four previous American albums. Not basement tapes, not bootleg material, strictly top-quality songs that simply couldn't fit before, and with fifty minutes of music, it's like getting fifteen minutes of music free. That's pretty rare these days.
Of course, all that is meaningless if the songs aren't worthwhile. Don't worry, this album has more good songs than most groups can come up with in years. This album covers an amazingly broad musical range. To label Costello New Wave is a gross understatement. The country lilt of "Stranger in the House" and "Radio Sweetheart" belie any previous connection to that style. In fact, of all twenty songs, only two songs have a definite New Wave sound. So much for that classification. He writes ballads, ("Clowntime is Over," "Just A Memory"), pop tones ("Girl's Talk," "Talking in the Dark"), sings R & B, ("Getting Mighty Crowded") and standards ("My Funny Valentine"). He switches genres with ease, but all the while it's distinctively Elvis, because no one sings or writes lyrics quite Like the man. His voice is recognizable immediately, and given enough time and listening, so are his lyrics. With a powerful vocabulary of cute little phrases, cliches, etc, at his command, he can reach endless emotions. He can be humourous and pathetic at once, "Losing you, / is just a memory / Memories / Don't mean that much to me." Never at a loss for a turn of a phrase, "Got a loaded imagination being fired by girl's talk," his lyrics range from the psychotic tinges of "Chelsea" and "Dr. Luther's Assistant," to the maudlin country tragedy of "Stranger in the House," all the way to the political statements of "Night Rally," "Everybody's singing with their hand on their heart / about being in their darkest hour. / It's just the sort of catchy little melody / to get you singing in the shower."
Put simply, Elvis Costello is arguably the most talented, granted acerb, songwriter or these days. He has a mastery over the pop form matched by only a few writers active today. It's very refreshing to hear the originality, the relevance, the well-crafted, consistent level of good music that he has been producing lately. Especially now is it refreshing, now, in the depressed, business oriented field of popular music. Get Happy, Get Elvis.