Trouser Press, February 1982

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Trouser Press
TP Collectors' Magazine

US rock magazines

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Almost Blue

Elvis Costello

Jon Young

Why shouldn't Elvis Costello make a country album? An accomplished dilettante, he's previously drawn from such diverse sources as Tin Pan Alley ("My Funny Valentine") and '60s R&B (Get Happy!!) with reasonable success; in the future he'll no doubt find other unlikely creative outlets. "Stranger in the House" showed that Costello can pen an orthodox country tune without sacrificing his flair for depicting interpersonal strife.

Unfortunately, on Almost Blue, Costello goes more than halfway to Nashville. Workhorse Billy Sherrill, producer of George Jones, Tammy Wynette and scores of lesser lights, is in charge, and there are no original songs. The burden is on Costello's vocal abilities, which suit his own compositions better than the sometimes hackneyed material he's chosen. The weepy "Too Far Gone." sounds campy coming from Tammy Wynette; because Costello tends to over-sing, emphasizing as many syllables as possible, his interpretation seems stiff and leaden. The doubletime "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To)" forces him to shout the lyrics tunelessly, sacrificing the humor of Hank Williams' version. Costello does turn in a few winners, though at the strangest moments. On "A Good Year for the Roses" Sherrill saddles Costello with oozing strings and a gargantuan backing chorus; EC responds with a subtle, lump-in-the-throat rendition that atones for other tracks.

The late Gram Parsons haunts this disc, and appropriately so: in his brief career Parsons created a volatile hybrid of rock and country yet to be equaled. Costello pays tribute by singing two of his songs — ineffectively. "I'm Your Toy (Hot Burrito #1)" can only allude to the morbidly intense ballad on the first Flying Burrito Bros. album. In comparison to Parsons' open earthiness, Costello sounds uptight and constricted.

Gram Parsons fashioned something personal from the sentimentality of country music, never losing sight of the fundamental silliness of melodrama. Almost Blue demonstrates Costello's affection for the genre — three cheers for that! — but keeps the clinical distance of an observer. The best country music has the same emotional tension as Costello's own best stuff. Once he loosens up and gives more of himself, he'll be a participant, and a worthy one.

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Trouser Press, No. 70, February 1982


Jon Young reviews Almost Blue.


Trouser Press includes Trust in its 10 Best of 1981.

Images

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Page scans.



1981 - The 10 Best


Trouser Press

Some people make resolutions when a new year rolls around; others make "10-best" lists. Those of you who keep track of such things will note that this is the third time in four years that Elvis Costello has topped TP's honor roll. [Now will you give us an interview? Ed.] Half of our overachievers are no strangers to TP's Top 10, with Squeeze making the most dramatic gain in popularity. Of the others, U2, Go-Go's and Holly and the Italians unleashed impressive debuts; the dB's' long-awaited album delivered as their 45s promised; and hardy perennials the Dictators proved there's life in the Bronx yet. Drop-outs from last year include Talking Heads (missing in solo action), Rockpile (busy licking wounds), the English Beat, Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd.

1. Elvis Costello, Trust — A confident show of force from Mr. Reliable before plunging into Nashville terra incognita.

2. U2, Boy — Raw, quivering messages from the heart. Defiant expressionism at a time we could use it.

3. The Clash, Sandinista! — Overblown, overambitious and only this bunch could pull it off. Still the only band that matters?

Go-Go's, Beauty and the Beat — Refreshing dose of pop insouciance. Also the new wave chart invaders of the year.

5. Squeeze, East Side Story — Craftsmanship needn't be dull. Someday their songs will get the recognition they deserve; don't wait.

6. Holly And The Italians, The Right to Be Italian — More polished than the Go-Go's, but just as breezy and tuneful. (Subscribers: Play flexi-disc for details.)

7. The Pretenders, II — Derivative? Sure! But Chrissie Hynde can still charm your pants off (sic) when she wants.

8. The dB's, Stands for DeciBels — Thanks to an amazing time-warp, this band is with us right now—and almost singlehandedly saving power pop's reputation.

The Undertones, Positive Touch — Derry's finest grow up without growing Old. Refined yet rocking, and true to its title.

10. Dictators, Fuck 'Em if They Can't Take a Joke — Our first cassette-only selection. Rock will never die as long as bands like this are around to give it a swift kick in the pants.

Runners-up: Kid Creole And The Coconuts, Fruit in Foreign Places; Shakin' Pyramids, Skin 'Em Up; Shoes, Tongue Twister Split Enz, Waiata Alan Vega.



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Cover.

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