Firstly: I don’t think Elvis has ever been better than he is with these two songs. Sorry, everyone who disagrees; you’re just wrong.
Secondly: This song for me is staying with friends in London on, I suspect, a rainy New Year’s Day, killing time and lazily talking while this is playing in the background. I was never – and this hasn’t changed, really – a big Elvis fan, but there’s something about this song that made me pay attention, and it’s everything that isn’t Elvis about it; there’s a really great post-Beatles, post-R&B arrangement happening here, and everytime I listen to it, I wonder what could’ve been done if that kind of thing was something that the King had been more interested in pursuing. Ah, Schroedinger’s Pop Career…
I have no history with Cat Stevens; somehow, he’d passed me by entirely in all of my musical journeys with the exception of a cover of his “Father and Son” that managed to upset me enough with one particular lyric (“Find a girl, settle down/Pretty soon now, you’ll be married”) that I stayed away from any temptation that might’ve led me to explore further. And then, years later, I heard this:
In terms of performance, it’s not Elliott Smith’s finest hour in the slightest; he sounds very out of it, all the rumors about his condition prior to his death swirling around in his sullen, slurred vocals. But the melody, the sparseness of it and the darkness of the lyrics, appealed to me enough that I went searching for the original, and… It’s actually right up my alley.
Clearly, I find sadness far too attractive when it comes to these kinds of songs, because this is a dark, defeated song filled with enough inference and vagueness as to allow the listener to define the “trouble” any way they want; one of the problems I have with the Elliott Smith version is, I think, that the way he sounds, his “trouble” overpowers other readings. But the original has a… lightness, perhaps, isn’t the right word, but there’s space to breathe and insert yourself that I find inviting. It’s not misery, but melancholy, and that’s an important difference for me. My sad songs must have a glimpse of hope, or else they’re too claustrophobic and upsetting.
I remember, when “Trouble” was first released in 1994, that Shampoo was a band that was supposed to be taken seriously, and treated as an authentic example of youth culture or some such, because the two members had previously put out a Manic Street Preachers fanzine; this, somehow, conferred some legitimacy to their brand of clunky pop. Looking back, almost two decades later, that seems ridiculous, especially when you listen to the song again and it sounds terrible – vocals that alternate between bored and whining, tinny and cheap production and lyrics that singularly fail to convince on any level. They were, of course, a novelty act set to appeal to proto-hipster adults and kids that should’ve known better, but didn’t. It worked, of course; “Trouble” was massive, getting to #11 in the charts during the height of Britpop and ending up, hilariously, in the soundtrack of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie as well as countless TV shows that wanted shorthand to denote that – uh oh – their characters were in trouble.
If there’s a saving grace to this song, it might be that it’s so brazen in its own disinterest in itself, a false aloofness that made both the song and the band seem far more interesting than either one actually was.