Monday, 8 October 2018

Elvis Costello - When I Was Cruel (2002)


Released April 2002

Firstly, it has to be said that this album suffered, as many did around the time of its release, from a deafeningly loud production. Now, I like my music loud, I like it thumpingly bassy, but even I have to turn this one down considerably from the volume I play most other albums at. Along with Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full" it is one of the worst offenders.


1. 45
2. Spooky Girlfriend
3. Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)
4. When I Was Cruel No. 2
5. Soul For Hire
6. 15 Petals
7. Tart
8. Dust 2...
9. Dissolve
10. Alibi
11. ...Dust
12. Daddy Can I Turn This?
13. My Little Blue Window
14. Oh Well
15. Episode Of Blonde
16. Radio Silence

Now that is out of the way, it is a good album in places. "45" is a rumbling, mysterious yet powerful opener. "Spiky Girlfriend" is a deliciously beguiling song, but it is somewhat overpowered by its piledriving bass rhythm. It is a great song though. Costello had not released an album since 1996's "All This Useless Beauty" (if you don't count the Burt Bacharach collaboration, "Painted From Memory") and this one has a lot of the power and lyrical nastiness of 1986's "Blood And Chocolate" mixed with the intuitive ear for a melody that was exposed on 1994's "Brutal Youth". It was certainly Costello's rockiest album for many a year. That feel is continued in the muscular, pounding Attractions-influenced "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)", with its Bruce Thomas-esque rumbling bass line. This is one of the best cuts on the album.

"When I Was Cruel No 2" is an atmospheric slow burner with a great Costello vocal but an incredibly irritating female backing vocal part that repeats "unn" on every backbeat. The song would be so better without it. It is a good one, though, full of great lyrics. He even quotes from Abba's "Dancing Queen" at one point. It goes on for six minutes at the same tempo, but does not get tiring, apart from the "unns", of course, which carry on throughout. "Soul For Hire" continues the vibe in a track that sounds very similar to the previous one, to be honest, you almost don't notice the change. "15 Petals" is a swirling, frenetic song with some madcap brassy parts over a solid, funky rhythm.

"Tart" is a perplexing, cynical slow number, while "Dust 2..." is another bassy, deep number. "Dissolve" is a powerful, upbeat, bluesy rocker. "Alibi" is similar too, but it has a memorable refrain. The remaining tracks are all pretty much a mixture of the same sort of thing - throbbing, bassy slow-tempo numbers. As with quite a few albums from this period, however, it is probably a few tracks too long. After about ten or eleven tracks I have had enough and feel like a change. There are fifteen tracks on here. "My Little Blue Window" is a good one, though, and "Radio Silence" is a great, evocative closer. In fact, they are all ok, but I do feel an eleven track album would have been fine.

This was a good album, but I don't play it that much, maybe I should. Taking just a few tracks at a time to fully appreciate them.


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