January 1981: Elvis Costello Releases 'Trust'

Elvis Costello's 'Trust'
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Elvis Costello

It wasn't his first album of the '80s, but Elvis Costello and The Attractions' Trust was the first to feel of a piece with the new decade.

Released on Jan. 23, 1981, Costello's fifth album was sandwiched between excursions into genres beyond the guitar-heavy post-punk that characterized his earlier work. (A year before saw the release of the soul-styled Get Happy!!; later that year, Costello headed to Nashville and record Almost Blue, an album of country covers.) Reuniting with producer Nick Lowe and assisted by from Lowe's engineer Roger Bechirian, Trust is classic Costello: angry-young-man energy held together by acidic lyrics and sharp melodies.

By Costello's own account, the sessions were more than a bit chaotic. "This was easily the most drug-influenced record of my career," he wrote in 2003. "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 Johnnie Walker Black Label." He took inspiration from various places, including rage over the recent election of prime minister Margaret Thatcher and tensions within his marriage ("Clubland," "Pretty Words"). Other songs were built from his earliest attempts at songwriting, like "Watch Your Step" and "New Lace Sleeves."

Still others were influenced by a new crop of alternative bands taking Britain by storm. Costello later admitted he patterned "White Knuckles" on the work of XTC, while "You'll Never Be a Man" took some inspiration from the Pretenders. Deep cut "Fish 'n' Chip Paper" was inspired by upstart U.K. band Squeeze, whom Costello took a considerable liking to: he recruited frontman Glenn Tilbrook to sing on the track "From a Whisper to a Scream" and produced the majority of their 1981 release East Side Story, which featured their signature song "Tempted."

In the end, Costello said, "The world [Trust] described was the opposite of the album title in much the same way that Get Happy!! had been less than cheerful. It suggested a tarnished and disappointed soul looking beyond the certainties of brash, arrogant youth and early success and on into a life (and possibly a career) in music." Though it reached the Top 10 in his native England, none of its singles became hits. But critics adored it: it placed third on The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll, and songs like "Watch Your Step" and "New Lace Sleeves" - the latter described on multiple occasions by Costello as among the best performances his Attractions ever gave - remain staples of the singer's live sets.

"That’s a record that falls between the cracks a little bit,” Elvis Costello told Rolling Stone in 2002. Four decades later, it's waiting for someone to dig it up.

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