That Elvis Costello has chosen to return to rhythms and imagery reminiscent of his first album might suggest a lack of new ideas and a dangerous search for former influences. Yet where his early work faltered for lack of variety and poor musicianship, Trust, the latest release on his own F. Beat label, exhibits not only a wider verbal and musical range, but also a chillingly accurate observation of human fallibility. Few can touch his sharp analysis of deception, self-deception and sexual desire.
Like Armed Forces, Get Happy! and countless Stax albums before them, Trust opens with the promotional single — the full, pumping beat of "Clubland." The strength of the album explains why the single failed to chart: it has little immediate appeal and is far from commercial on first hearing; although production is often far simpler than on earlier work, Costello's vocals are still layered beneath thin sheets of trebled acoustics and are often quite incomprehensible; and above all, rhythms are off-beat and void of catchy hooks.
Only "From a Whisper to a Scream" presents itself as an obvious choice for a future single (Costello is joined by Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze), whereas out of the twenty tracks on the Get Happy! album all but a handful were possible single releases. The move away from the pressures of achieving commercial success has provided Costello with a free hand for experiment. His restrained. reflective ballad-like "Shot With His Own Gun" and the country and western feel of "Different Finger" are both valuable tracks that he had neither the guts nor opportunity to put on an earlier album.
More than ever on Trust, The Attractions sound convinced of their equal role in a four piece, rather than a second-rate backing band. Their eerie, lilting accompaniment to Costello's perceptive "Big Sister's Clothes" provides a sparse, acoustic clarity which might have appeared as over-mixed chaos two years ago.
"Passion went out of fashion
That's all you're concerned with,
Sweat it out for 30 seconds on home improvements,
It's easier to say 'I love you'
Than 'Yours sincerely' I suppose,
All little sisters like to try on big sister's clothes."
Costello's intricate word play, concentrating almost solely on sex and failed ambition, often run away with him. There are too many loose ends. too many unjustified puns.
Nonetheless, this is still a significant album. It takes Costello forward, it takes the narrow boundaries of "pop" forward and it keeps three steps ahead of Costello's imitators. From the stark cover to the final track, it is a triumph of simplicity.