Saturday, January 23, 2021

Elvis Costello has Trust issues

Elvis Costello : Strict Time

"Four Eyes. One Vision," says the full page Billboard Magazine ad for Trust, Elvis Costello's new album released January 23, 1981. 

Costello has called Trust “easily the most drug-influenced record of my career.” As he writes in the liner notes, “It was completed close to a self-induced nervous collapse on a diet of rough ‘scrumpy’ cider, gin and tonic, various powders, only one of which was ‘Andrews’ Liver Salts,’ and in the final hours, Seconal and Johnny Walker Black Label.”

I find Trust to be a difficult album in which to immerse myself. There are some instant classics here, surrounded by much lesser fare than we're used to. Costello is more confident, but that's less interesting to me. And I can do without the vibrato he's so keen on displaying.

Earlier working titles were "Cats and Dogs" and "More Songs About Fucking and Fighting". There are some violent images in the album, as Costello notes in his memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink:

“I collected most of the other images for “Clubland,” “Pretty Words,” and “White Knuckles” during the Get Happy tour of England, where the offer of violence never seemed very far away. 
The “carnival desires” in “Watch Your Step” were just a picturesque way of saying that you might have to choose between chasing the wrong girl and avoiding gangs of lads shouting abuse and spewing into the gutters. 

Kicking in the car chrome 
Drinking down the eau de cologne 
Spitting out the Kodachrome”.

Costello experiments with different styles of music, from country to rockabilly, from soul to tin pan alley.  At the time critics thought the album featuring "Watch Your Step" might have been a misstep,  now it is considered Costello's "White Album", an overlooked masterpiece. 

Recording began in the Fall of 1980 with Nick Lowe returning to the console board. Here, for the first time, the album is filled out with a few throwaways. Songs that seem to go nowhere. "Big Sister's Clothes", "Luxembourg", and "Shot With His Own Gun" do nothing for me. I feel like we've heard "Fish N Chip Paper" before. At the time, I never would have guess Costello's flirtation with country on "Different Finger" would be followed by Almost Blue, an abysmal album of country songs.

Most albums peak right at the top, but Trust saves its best songs for the middle of the album, when "Watch Your Step" is followed by "New Lace Sleeves" and "From A Whisper To a Scream", featuring a guest vocal from Squeeze frontman and songwriter Glenn Tilbrook as well as a guitar part from ex-Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont. In return, Costello agreed to produces Squeeze's next album ,1981's East Side Story

Regarding Trust Costello has said “That’s a good record. I think it has one of the greatest Attractions performances, ‘New Lace Sleeves.’” Fans will agree, but if you already have the Girls Girls Girls compilation, you've already got the best songs on the album. 

Trust did surprisingly well in the 1981 album-of-the-year polls; in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll, it finished a close third, right behind the Clash’s Sandinista! and X’s Wild Gift. The album finished #1 on the Trouser Press list #2 on Melody Maker's list and #7 on NME's list.

Clearly 1981 is no 1980.


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