In any case, it was certainly a treasure trove for American completists at the time. Eventually many of the songs would be available as bonus tracks on CDs reissued and remastered by Rykodisc, rendering Taking Liberties out-of-print. Furthermore, most could be found on Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers, Liberties' British counterpart, which remains in print in Europe. Taking Liberties’ 20 songs — again, “all different!” — constitute a grab-bag of approaches, some reminiscent of tracks from Costello’s first four studio releases, others charting a wayward course or foreshadowing his own restive and untried-and-true efforts at “taking liberties” with such genres as country and western and popular standards.
One of the most evocative tracks is “Big Tears.” Sounding like a quality cast-off from This Year’s Model, this slice of venom-on-vinyl is not only a high-powered stand-out track featuring Clash guitarist Mick Jones and a gale-force keyboard accompaniment from Steve Nieve, it also contains one of Costello’s most impassioned vocals. Though what would you expect from a track that begins with a seething set-up, “Everyone is busy with the regular routine / The sniper just takes his aim”? The insidious aside, though, builds to a climactic ending: “Big tears mean nothing / When you're lying in your coffin / Tell me who's been taken in / Tell me, tell me, tell me…”
Similarly sinister but more ghoulish is “Tiny Steps,” which describes “Wooden bones and pretty lashes / Iodine for your baby's gashes / Little tombs for your baby's ashes / If something goes wrong.” A couple other songs also provide an outlet for an early Elvis-eerie proclivity toward the macabre: Matching the B-movie horror imagery of “Dr. Luther’s Assistant” is “Sunday’s Best,” a carnivalesque creep-fest which warns, “Don't look now under the bed / An arm, a leg and a severed head…”
Of course, on the brighter side, there’s plenty of Costello’s hook-happy infectiousness and wit, although some songs may still straddle a line between violence and whimsy. Costello may express a wish to be “Crawling to the U.S.A.,” but in declaring that “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea,” Elvis’ desire to “Shake you very gently by the throat” has Pete Thomas’ punctuating percussion yielding to punch-drunk concussion.
More unequivocal is “Talking in the Dark,” with its almost perfect merge of sentiment and refrain:
- I miss talking in the dark
Without you, I'm not conversational
Without the sense of the occasional
Without you, I miss talking in the dark
When the barking and the biting is through
We can talk like we're in love or talk like we're above it
We can talk and talk until we talk ourselves out of it.
Less successful, surprisingly is “Girl’s Talk,” the dour original no match for Dave Edmunds’ sprightly cover. But sticking to Costello-to-Costello comparisons, similarly disappointing is the slow-crawl “Clowntime is Over,” and the countrified and mannered “Black and White World,” both improved upon in their final Get Happy!! versions, where they got, well, happier. In addition, and in an early attempt at producing, Costello, in the think-I-can “Ghost Train” can’t, although the woozy song does retain a lovely and memorable couplet: “Look at the graceful way she dances / On foot speaks, the other answers…”