Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel (Universal)

I just wish my dad rocked like that.

How he continues to do it after over 20 years is absolutely beyond me. After roughly a decade of making music with other projects—such as Burt Bacharach, the Mingus Band, and recently the London Symphony Orchestra—punk/new wave legend Elvis Costello is back with a spectacular rock record, accompanied by all but one member of his original band, the Attractions. The only fresh face in his new outfit, the Imposters, is bass player Davey Faragher.

Much has been made in the mainstream media of Costello’s “return to rock” with When I Was Cruel, but it should be noted that he seems to have learned much from his more highbrow musical efforts during the 1990s. Though his pop songwriting abilities shine through like the glint of his fuzzed-out guitars, Costello displays much talentfor horn arrangements and more complex song structure. Costello himself arranged the horn section for “15 Petals,” a driving, borderline Bo Diddley–beat anthem to lost love.

However, Costello certainly hasn’t lost his knack for tackling such subjects as love and loss with a straight face accompanied by an ironic grin. Anybody remember “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” Costello strains his 47-year-old voice on “Alibi” to belt out lines like “But if I’ve done something wrong there’s no ’ifs and buts’/’Cos I love you just as much as I hate your guts.”

Where Elvis and the Imposters shine is on tracks which could only come from an experienced songwriter and his loyal musicians, such as the sexy, incredibly haunting, “When I Was Cruel No. 2.” Costello places narrative lyrics about his youth over a sampled Italian pop song to produce something between Portishead and Cowboy Junkies. Simultaneously, the end result is unmistakably Elvis Costello. I guess I just wish my dad rocked like that.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply