Elvis Costello's Taking Liberties is mostly a compilation of previously released but hard to acquire singles and album cuts. Only three of the LP's 20 songs have never been released.
EC continues his fascination with the late-'50s/early '60's album cover motifs, with incongruous pastel block letters on a gray, blue and brown printed backwards ("Taking Liberties"). The black and yellow label also harks back to that period with phrases like "electrical process" and "viva-tonal recording." There is the requisite liner note from a Columbia VP, and 20 diversely styled songs.
EC covers twangy country to stripped-down, basic ballads. Only five, though, stand out immediatley: "Clean Money," "Girls' Talk," "Clowntime Is Over," and "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea."
Muscular bass and a rapid pace characterize "Clean Money" and "Chelsea," both out and out rockers from the This Year's Model period.
"Black and White World" and "Clowntime Is Over" are skeletal drafts of the fleshed-out versions on Get Happy! The simpleness of the Taking Liberties cuts graphically demonstrates the changes a song goes through before its release.
"Girls' Talk" is the album's best cut, totally outshining the pop interpretations by Dave Edmunds and Linda Ronstadt. These two MOR singers certainly provide a greater audience for the song than Costello could hope for. But that same audience necessarily suffers from the lack of urgency and tension which EC imparts to "Girls' Talk." EC's vocals manage to convey the hypocrisy implied in the title with a barely concealed cynicism that Edmunds and Ronstadt never come close to.
As a whole, Taking Liberties is too unstructured for it to win EC any new followers. This album is for the die hard fans. And there are just a few of them.