Beside the point as it is, just as I was beginning to accept that Elvis Costello might be halfway as important as the people around me keep telling me he is comes the release of Trust, nothing but a record but sure to be viewed and reviewed as so much more.
You cannot write "what you like" in the pop press, discovery outside the guidelines is not allowed. The formula, in terms of reviews, goes: MAJOR FIGURE — maybe even a page, because it's "important." Too bad if you rate Zevon higher than Springsteen. You should be writing for a fanzine.
And where was I? Oh yes. The things I hated about Elvis Costello so much at first. The fake anger, the anti-beautiful pose, the in-crowd humour of the graphics, the lack of "fun," the constantly irritating factor of the lyrics, full of cheap puns and empty tricks. About one great line to every ten bad jokes. The things I thought he was beginning to put behind him with Get Happy! and Taking Liberties, they're all here in spades to whip up another instant clas(sic). So no one-line review.
Compensations do exist. The office Costello intellectual sees the album as El's hedonist statement, where he gives up on berating life and lovers (over faithlessness) in favour of the brutal pleasures of the one-night-stand. This may be true in "Strict Time" ("Double up / Keep your lip buttoned up"), where the old Costello double-word ploy is used with reference to hand-jives and hand-jobs, as if that made a great song.
There are only a limited number of jokes, dirty or otherwise, in the world but the tune, dominated by Steve Nieve's piano, saves it. The same cannot be said of the mock-rock 'n' roll of "Luxembourg." There may, however, be an incisive lyric in there but I don't subscribe to the notion that you should have to press your ear to the old bass-reflexes to pick up on such things.
Truly, "Clubland" is an undervalued single, but it suffers from the disease permeating all of Trust's first side: Lack of focus. Costello's stock-in-tirade has been nothing if not direct, startling songs. Here they are absent, replaced by grains of sand in the oyster that fail to deliver pearls. "Lovers Walk" is a string of one-liners in an unfinished package deal, while "You'll Never Be A Man" and "Pretty Words" could be any old EC imitator. Only "Watch Your Step" sounds real, and even then it's for armchair liberals into pondering just what it's all about.
On side two, "New Lace Sleeves" is another slight melody couching a tale of infidelity, and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze duets on the inconsequential big-beat of "From A Whisper To A Scream" (great title, duff tune). Angling, possibly, for another George Jones cover, El turns in the country adultery of "Different Finger," but while it's the album's best cut so far it's not as dirty as the title sounds and can't match "Stranger In The House" as a genre-stripper.
"White Knuckles" may serve as an ironic celebration of wife-beating, but it won't do as anything beyond standard Costello fare. By this point I was fidgeting in my seat, but EC probably knew it would be happening. He's nothing if not calculating. "Shot With His Own Gun" is already a legend. Just Nieve's deliberately overblown piano and El's voice dish up the dirt on the only bona-fide winner on Trust. "How does it feel now you've been undressed / By a man with a mind like the gutter press".
That can't be beat by the squeaky organ-ised sneer of "Fish 'N' Chip Paper" though it's approached by a perverse "Big Sister's Clothes." I'm batting on a minor team, I know. Trust has much of what made Costello famous and little of what endeared him to me in the first place. Trust is in a rut. Unfortunately ruts are what sell. But remember one thing:
I was the wrong guy to ask. Shot with my own gun, nevertheless Trust offers the weakest bang since the big one.