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for April 30, 2002

"Cruel"'s Out
by Sean Carolan

Band: Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Album: "When I Was Cruel"
Label: Island

(Click here to purchase.)
Simply put, if this record had been the first release from a new act, we'd all be calling it the record of the year, and hailing its creator as an unheralded genius. But while it may very well be the record of the year, and its creator is, in fact, a genius, I dearly hope it won't get ignored just because it's Elvis Costello.
Don't get me wrong; Costello's got his fans, and I'm certainly among them. But he's not the new, new thing, and I think we've all grown cozy with him. That's even though this record makes me the happiest I've been while listening to one of his records since "Get Happy" ... which is pretty durn happy.
There are songs on this record with serious cojones ("45" and "Daddy Can I Turn This-", the latter of which benefits from a darn-near-Smithereens central riff.) There are songs on this record that take Costello's confident vocal presence to regions previously uncharted in his catalog, like the chillout-sampler-ready almost-title track "When I Was Cruel No. 2". The disk contains no clunkers.
As a pop songwriter, Costello's in as good a form as he's ever been - when you're not hearing yet another memorable hook, you're getting attacked below radar by another wry line that almost slipped past. His band of Imposters for this record includes Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas from The Attractions, which explains both the tight beat (even on the more atmospheric pieces) and the intelligent keyboards.
So, it's both expected and unexpected, which is the sort of thing Costello's been happy to provide us over the years. Now that he's the Elvis with the longest recording career, it's the least we can do to provide an adoring audience. Elvis is the king.


©2002 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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