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Welcome back to the Elvis Costello Song Of The Week®, our ongoing attempt to drive you ever-deeper into the catalog of the musician who most embodies the Trunkworthy mission. Elvis has spent almost 40 years using every means at his disposal to turn his fans on to the artists, songs, and genres that inspire him. For that reason (and, well, because we can’t think of another artist who has written 500 songs as good as the 500 he’s written), we’re making this our humble attempt to return the favor to an artist who’s inspired us so much for so many years.
The week’s pick: “You Tripped At Every Step” from Brutal Youth (1994)
David Gorman: When I first heard this song, the first thing I head from Brutal Youth, I remember thinking, “Oh, this could be an unreleased cut from Trust.” As much as I loved the sidetracks he took—we’ve evangelized those in our last few Song Of The Week picks—“You Tripped At Every Step” just felt like the old band was back together . . . like maybe Elvis was looking to pick up where he left off before he kicked everyone’s expectations in the gut with Almost Blue and Imperial Bedroom.
Gary Stewart: But Brutal Youth is a deceptive album because it wasn’t just the next iteration of Trust or Blood & Chocolate. Yes, it features the Attractions, but it’s also informed by the same person who had just made an album with a string quartet and would shortly go on to cowrite Painted From Memory with Burt Bacharach. The album goes way beyond “aggressive rock” and has a sonic complexity and connection to the textures many heard on Mighty Like A Rose and Spike.
While musically “You Tripped at Every Step” is Trust-like, lyrically (and even structurally) it’s much more sophisticated. That first line, “Take your tiny feet out of your mother’s shoes, or there is going to be a terrible scene,” is one of his best openers and introduces the target of the song, whose own personal upbringing, damage, and destructive patterns are in danger of making them their worst enemy. The song has some of the edge and feel of earlier Costello, but there is a level of complex psychology and even, in parts, an implicit empathy.
David Gorman: But it’s not more sophisticated in the sense that you listen to it and think, “He’s a completely different artist now.” So for the people who stopped listening to him after Trust, this is the song that says, “If that’s really what you love about him, here’s another entry point into the later phase of his career.” Yes, he’d absolutely grown creatively, but there’s some nostalgia in the grooves, and this feels like a natural evolution from songs like “You’ll Never Be a Man.” It’s almost like comfort food for longtime fans.