It's not that I don't like Elvis Costello. On the contrary I've found some of his works to he really quite acceptable. It's just that all around me he seems to inspire either vehement resentment or drooling admiration while the best I can usually muster is a sort of amiable indifference. Still, one man's meat and all that.
Trust is Costello's fifth album and is not what one would call a frenzied departure from his previous efforts. There's that familiar voice spitting out neatly packaged syllables of contempt and angst while the ever present Attractions strum dependably in the background. On side one in particular, if there is one criticism to he levelled it's that so much ground is (albeit adequately) merely being retrod.
"Luxembourg" sounds like a poor relative of "Mystery Dance" and while "You'll Never Be A Man" and "Pretty Words" are both witty and pretty there is little to distinguish them from the better efforts of any of our resident Costello clones. "Pretty Words" mind, does have the distinction of sounding like Lulu's "To Sir With Love" and that's got to be one of the best songs ever written.
Part of the problem of having such a widely plagiarised style is that continual evolution becomes essential in order to remain one step ahead of the pack. This is difficult but not impossible (see D. Bowie).
On the first side, only “Clubland” seems to be moving firmly in the right direction. It has that canny combination of poignant lyrics and strong melody and somehow seems to coast home on sheer class.
Too often on “Trust” Costello the lyricist presides over Costello the songwriter, usually at the expense of the song. Structure and melody occasionally seem to take second place in order to accommodate the man’s bitter wit and verbose emotive observations. Although this may delight the Ian Penmans of this world, it’s not good news for Philistines such as myself who still enjoy a good tune.
The worst offender is “Lovers Walk”, which sees E.C. rapping out a curiously fractured, caustic commentary on the subject of love over a monotonous, Bo-Diddley flavoured, drum heavy beat. The result is most certainly not the stuff of which legends are made.
Side two opens with “New Lace And Sleeves” which, although it contains some great lines, has little about it capable of elevating the level of proceedings above Costello-ish predictability. This is followed by a duet with Glenn Tillbrook on “From A Whisper To A Scream” which achieves little other than illustrating just how out of his depth the Deptford lad seems when matched against the highly accomplished vocal chords of one who can really sing.
From there on things seem to take a definite turn for the better. “Different Finger”, a C&W-flavoured tale of illicit sexuality, works for me partly because I’m a sucker for country music and partly because Costello’s sincerity is so much more acceptable in the self-parodying atmosphere that country music seems to exude.
“White Knuckles” pulls no such punches. It’s a powerful verbal assault on Macho Man/wife beating scum everywhere, which without reservations does succeed completely both as a song and a statement. “White knuckles on black and blue skin, you don’t have to take it so you just give in”. The words are fired out in a vaguely Weller-like fashion (perhaps they attend the same evening classes in advanced sincerity for respected artists) and hit their target with unerring accuracy. “Maybe they weren’t loved when they were young, maybe they should be hung by their tongues”. Right on mate.
Next up is “Shot With His Own Gun” which is without doubt the album’s artistic zenith. Costello croons sensitively, over a wonderfully over-melodramatic Nieve piano. “How does it feel now that you’ve been undressed by a man with a mind like the gutter press”. It’s a quite superlative offering which must surely serve to impress the most partisan of critics.
Of the two remaining songs “Big Sister’s Clothes” is a tender requiem which mourns the passing of emotion in favour of romance (guess who won’t be at Le Kilt this week?), while “Fish ‘n’ Chip Paper” shows that even good lyricists have bad days (“Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish ‘n’ chip paper” - profound eh).
“Trust” undoubtedly contains more than enough to keep most Costello devotees (a secret society somewhat akin to the Freemasons) gloriously satiated for months on end. More important though, it takes a few vital steps towards convincing the indifferent and perhaps the hostile that they just might have been missing out on something, and that’s no mean (feat).