Elvis Costello has become one of the most influential and prolific rock artists around, in his never-ending quest to hunt down and pin-point emotional fascism.
Since late 1977, he has released six albums. In the past year alone, he has put out three records which, taken together, offer a whopping 54 songs between them.
His third album in the past year — and his sixth overall — is Trust, an ironically titled effort of 14 songs that shows Costello expanding his style, refining his lyrics and refusing to sit still for anyone.
Once again, Costello's focus is the tyranny of love, from both sides. Costello, whose attempt to name his third album Emotional Fascism instead of Armed Forces was nixed by his record company, remains a master of wordplay and insight into the romantic wars. He concentrates here on the binds and confines in which lovers find themselves.
In "Pretty Words," he apologizes for indiscretions by noting that while, "Pretty words don't mean much anymore," he also doesn't "mean to be mean much anymore." In the same song he observes that love can be "more like a booby trap than a booby prize."
Love is a dangerous quantity for all involved in Costello's tunes: "Be on caution where lovers walk," he warns in "Lovers Walk." The passions love incites run the gamut "from a whisper to a scream," in the song of the same name.
Costello's musical persona varies from the abuser to the abused. In "Shot With His Own Gun," Costello chronicles a wife's revenge on a husband who is "losing his touch with each caress." "White Knuckles" is a violently casual song of wife-battering ("White knuckles on black and blue skin. Didn't mean to hit her but she kept on laughin'"). In "Strict Time," Costello depicts himself as the unwilling marionette, saying that "There's a hand on the wire that leads to my mouth" but maintaining that "I don't want to be a puppet."
The ambivalence of Costello's lyrics is complemented by his refusal to be pigeonholed into a particular musical setting. Working with producer Nick Lowe, Costello proves himself once more to be a true eclectic when it comes to instrumentation.
The styles run from the sheer power poundings of "Luxembourg" to the Bo Diddley chunkiness of "Lovers Walk" to the cocktail-piano backing on "Shot With His Own Gun" to the country-western strains of "Different Finger."
Costello's guitar, which bites and snaps with vengeful fury, is upstaged by the plethora of approaches of pianist Steve Nieve. Nieve can handle everything from flamenco riffs on "Clubland" to the shrill organ fills on "White Knuckles" to the country honky-tonk stylings on "Different Finger."
Elvis Costello keeps getting better with each album. He is unafraid to go off the deep end, to take a chance musically and lyrically. Like Bruce Springsteen he is one of the few rock artists around with a singular vision backed by the musical acumen to give it substance.