Trust, the sixth album from Elvis Costello in five years, contains 14 new songs to be deciphered and sifted for clues. The first half-dozen times through the songs, it is the trademark and already familiar Costello moves that stand out. The punchy quotable one-line put downs and put ens and the swirling musical mix dominate, It's then, when the sensory overload starts to slow down, that the more subtle signs of change begin to become apparent. They are good signs.
"Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being," he spat out sometime in the past on "Lipstick Vogue." There are indications on Trust that young Elvis has taken the plunge and committed himself to life as a part of the human race. This Is mostly because he has backed off from jackhammer intenseness of his earlier compositions but also because on the lyric side he has become the predictable rebel without a cause seeking instead to refine both his writing style and his message.
There are superb rock songs. "Lovers Walk" warns about the pitfalls of romance without the contemptuous sneer. "Strict Time" expands from a reggae-style opening into a rollicking piano-based exercise in melody. "New White Sleeves" reworks the mystery feel of "Green Shirts" from Armed Forces. Costello also concentrates some energy into writing traditional country (as he did with "Motel Matches" and "Stranger In The House"), putting together a tale of slip-around romance that will eventually make it into the country charts by a more conventional singer — say, Linda Ronstadt.
The knock on Trust will come from people who want Costello to remain the eternal misanthrope, the stainless-steel spike in search of a soft body to drive itself into. Also, earnest fans will complain that he is now heavily into repeating himself. The impact of this music is much more diffuse with keyboards in particular playing a larger role in coloring the songs. On the other hand, now that Costello has established as firm a style as anyone this side of Bruce Springsteen, he had no option but to expand and open up his basic catalogue of pop-rock riffs. Even when he recycles a melody line — here turning "Secondary Modern" into "Watch Your Step" — it is in the acceptable cause of delivering an Orwelian message about families that spy on each other and creating a solid song. It works.
Watch out or someone's going to hurt you, you're not what you say you are and better take a second look at what's happening are the themes that Costello comes back to time and again. However, with Trust, Costello has decided to be less the misfit, resolve more of his nightmare fantasies or at least offer the hope that there can he something other than a permanent disaster lurking just around the corner from the beginning of every new relationship.
And isn't it funny that as hard as Elvis Costello has tried to conceal his real person from his public, it's beginning to leak out because people are doing exactly what he wanted them to — listen to his songs. Question is, where does he go when the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle falls into place. With Trust, which definitely contains some insights, that point in time seems a lot closer.