MIT Tech, October 3, 1980

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Elvis takes liberties

Elvis Costello / Taking Liberties

Eric Sohn

Now that we're scrubbed, Doctor, let's examine the patient. Nice front cover pie, Elvis' name in... PASTEL YELLOW, BLUE, AND PINK?? And the album title is in SCRIPT?? Looks like a sell-out to me... let's turn it over... FAST!!

Hey, not bad... twenty tunes in all. But, I've heard of most of these tunes before. Never released here in the States, except for the cuts off the New Amsterdam LP, but I was still expecting new material. Underneath, we find a note from the Contemporary Music (gasp!!) Vice President of Columbia Records. It's a sickening little piece of work, extolling the virtues of the "irrepressible Elvis" and his "rockin' new album," not to mention "the fabulous Attractions." This is the kind of excess usually reserved for the newest MOR king or for an after-the-fact compilation album (like BeBopDeluxe's The Best and the Rest of). But, not for ELVIS, the hottest thing since Texas chili... I may get ill.

Scalpel, please... off with the shrink wrap. Examining the sleeve, we find another nice pic, this of Elvis and his "fabulous" backing band. The flip has a nice curiosity: a full lowdown on each cut, consisting of author, producer, engineer, recording studio, auxiliary musicians and any previous releases. Only three new cuts out of twenty, too bad. At least it's got hot pink letters on a black background.

Finally, let us dissect this record. We note that this is a "Viva-tonal Recording" and an "Electrical Process," whatever THAT means. Hey, what's this?? One side proclaims this, in large letters, to be a Columbia recording. The other side, however, has "Costello" in the same spot. Not that they're banking on Elvis' success, mind you, but this is getting ridiculous. It's bad enough that they're using a special label for this disc, as opposed to the usual black and red sticker.

By now, I don't know if I really want to proceed. Elvis has apparently sold out, "turning rebellion into money," as the Clash would say. Too much hype. Oh, what the,hell, might as well give it a listen.

This is a great album. Unlike Get Happy, where Elvis padded the record just to improve his chances of getting a winner, this is a compilation of great stuff. And, as much as I hate to admit it, the dude from Columbia is right. This disc is chock-full of different styles. It's interesting to note that nine of the tunes are produced by Elvis, as opposed to super-producer Nick "Basher" Lowe.

There are no clinkers here. Those that rock, rock in style. Those that don't are pop snippets with Elvis' distinctive lyrics. I have too many favorites on this record. That doesn't happen too often.

Check out "Girl Talk." Penned by Elvis, Dave Edmunds made it a saccharine FM hit. Elvis' version is more detached; more misogynistic, with nice keyboards by Steve Nieve and an appropriate hollowness by Lowe.

"Talking in the Dark" was first marketed here by Linda Brown... I mean, Ronstadt (sorry, Linda). Elvis is more soulful and more sincere. If you're into nice vocal textures, check out this cut.

A new cut, "Hoover, Factory," is a must listen. It's laid back but not lifeless, world-weary but not defeated. For you country music fans, there's "Stranger in the House," Go for it. There's also a great straight short (1:25) reading of Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine."

My faves, however, are "(I don't want to go to) Chelsea" and "Radio Sweetheart." The first is rocking and features great guitar work by Pete Thomas. The other is the kind of easy-going tune you sing to yourself on a clear spring day; a real joy to hear on your stereo.

Mind you, this is not to say that the other cuts aren't great. This album pulls at your heartstrings ("Clowntime is Over"), it's funky ("Getting Mighty Crowded" by Van McCoy) and it stabs like a poisoned Parker pen ("Night Rally").

If you're a collector, you don't need this record. You've already got all the singles. If you're not, you had better get this album, disgusting package and all. This is an album not to be missed. Columbia has been "taking Liberties" with Elvis' promotion, but the man behind the microphone is ever-faithful to us purveyors of fine music.

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The Tech, October 3, 1980


Eric Sohn reviews Taking Liberties.

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1980-10-03 MIT Tech pages 08-09.jpg
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