Musician, April 1981

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Elvis Costello

Fred Schruers

The four-piece band that Elvis Costello anchors looks simply too small, like something you'd hire for a bargain wedding. The gear is basic, stripped down, so gangly keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Bruce Thomas look like their knees are about to tip over instruments looted from a toy-shop. There's just one vocal mike, which Elvis, looking jowly and soon to be sweating heavily under his gray groom's coat, straddles protectively throughout the evening. Bathed in basic white spotlights, they look like very small potatoes.

On a Sunday evening at Manhattan's Palladium, they were absolutely riveting. From Costello's first appearance, singing "Just A Memory" sans band on a darkened stage, he avoided making any false moves by scarcely moving at all. He just stood there crooning his guts out. While the show was well larded with big beat rock 'n' roll tunes e.g., "Radio Radio", introduced with "Things haven't really changed much, have they?") this show was what we saw coming with the material on last year's Get Happy — a song stylist's tour de force.

You wouldn't quite call it pretty singing, but it certainly was finely nuanced, melodic, even studious. Never, however, lacking in passion. During certain quieter numbers, like Trust's "New Lace Sleeves" or the obligatory "Alison," Costello keeps himself gathered like a cat padding softly into snatching-range of a bird. When the fevered moment comes — "Sometimes I wish I could stop you from talking..." — it's generally reinforced by a brutal rim shot and an almost involuntary seizing gesture with his left hand.

The Rumour's Martin Belmont came on to play guitar midway through the set, but the real standout was bassist Pete Thomas, whose fills were sometimes throaty and percussive, sometimes neatly executed chirps and skids, but always an intelligent augmentation of the mood.

A week after his Palladium gig, at the Capitol Theater in New Jersey, Costello would spice the set with Irma Thomas' "I Need Your Love So Bad" and the Temptations' "Don't Look Back"; in New York, the most interesting nugget was Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" — hardly a better country tune than Costello's own likeably formulaic "Different Finger." The winding, hesitating melody line of "She's Got You" is so similar to that of "You Don't Know Me" that Costello's phrasing sounded for all the world like the man whose name he so notoriously took in vain, Ray Charles.

It seems that we now have an Elvis Costello who wants to perfect his art, not his attitude. He even grinned twice when Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook, fresh from a hot opening set and bouncing around like a spaniel, joined him for a rousing version of "From A Whisper To A Scream." In one final display of musical brotherhood, Costello vamped into Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" in the middle of "Watching the Detectives," ending a slam-bang hour of song in the same peak form he'd begun in. And Costello in peak form is satisfying indeed.

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Musician, No. 32, April / May 1981

Fred Schruers reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with Martin Belmont and Glenn Tilbrook, Sunday, February 1, 1981, Palladium, New York.

Barry Jacobs reviews Trust.


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Clipping and advertisement.


Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Barry Jacobs

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Oh Elvis. The nasty persona has afforded him money, beautiful women (Bebe Buell, for one) and all the other evils of materialistic culture (including media attention) he puts down in song, but the distance from his audience the persona creates has sometimes hurt his music. Sure the melodies have always been great — the reworkings of Beatles and Motown lines imaginative, the bridges the best in rock. But the production he's employed has often veiled his music as much as distinguished it from more conventional pop. On last year's Get Happy!, in particular, he retreated (to Holland) behind a thick, roller-rink organ wash at the same time he pushed Stax and Motown riffs forward. My attention was less immediately drawn to the 20 great songs than to the strange twist of a stand-offish pose he threw at us.

What makes Trust his most commanding album since This Year's Model is its forthrightness. He's placed his nasal, sometimes straining vocals out on the front porch for all to see its frailties and poor imitations of American country singers — but also to sense more of its emotional resonance, especially on songs like "Shot With His Own Gun" and "New Lace Sleeves." More importantly, Steve Nieve finally takes his paws off the organ sustain and lays out the melody on the more evocative and less concealing acoustic piano. Coupled with the renewed presence of the guitar (including the work of Martin Belmont), this gives Trust a more open, brighter feel.

The music ranges from the Bo Diddley-chuggin' "Lover's Walk" to a Kurt Weillish and overgrandiose "Shot With His Own Gun." The ground between includes the pulsing piano chording "Strict Time" and a slow but punchy descending organ mood piece called "Watch Your Step," the album's stand-out. His themes, as always, focus on emotional fascism, the imperialism of the bedroom. Here, too, a less postured stance on Elvis' part brings the point home more truly. The scenario in "Pretty Words" of the geezer who reads the headline "Millions Murdered," tucks the paper under his arm, and trades pleasantries with his wife — says more about the banalities of human interactions than, say, the more stilted scene of "Two Little Hitlers" from Armed Forces.

Trust is the social compact — in the Costello mythology, the mode of dupe. But as the album's title, I think it indicates his increased trust in himself — and his audience — to play it straight, without the defensive snigger and obfuscating, nasty pose.

Photo by Barry Schultz.
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Cover and page scans.


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