Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: When I Was Cruel

When I bought this Elvis Costello album, It had a sticker on the cover that said it was his "first loud album since 199?" I immediately knew I would like it.

2002's When I Was Cruel could certainly be called a return to form and much like 1994's Brutal Youth (the answer to the question above,) it's another fantastic band effort, this time introducing of The Imposters.

Former Cracker bassist Davey Faragher joins Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas to back Elvis Costello, creating a solid band that parallels the Attraction's versatility. Whether he improved on bassist Bruce Thomas is up to debate, though I will say that the vocal harmonies he provides are a welcome addition.

Costello jams 15 tracks into When I Was Cruel, many of them living up to the sticker's claim. It kicks off with a slow burning song on growing old until the chorus is unleashed and blows you away. "45" has some great vinyl imagery as well a great play on the numbers in our lives.

"Spooky Girlfriend" and "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)" continue the wonderful assault on your ears with a very seductive tone on the former and a pop-punk burst in the latter.

"When I Was Cruel No. 2" showcases Costello's experimentation with sound samples in this album by featuring a reoccurring bit from an Italian song. The title song is also has one of my favorite exchanges in an Elvis Costello song:

Two newspaper editors like playground sneaks
Running the book on which of them is going to last the week
One of them calls to me and he says, "I know you"
"You gave me this tattoo back in '82"
"You were a spoilt child then with a record to plug"
"And I was a shaven-headed seaside thug"
"Things haven't really changed that much"
"One of us is still getting paid too much"
Along with the rocking numbers, there are a few great ballads. I love "Tart" and "Alibi" despite their length and repetitiveness. They're like a dessert that's too rich but you can't help but finish off. "My Little Blue Window" is a great sing-a-long tune and would make a perfect theme for a TV show. The closing track "Radio Silence" is the opposite, more like an apocalyptic requiem.

"Radio Silence" follows what I think is the highlight of the album. "Episode of Blonde" is a rumba-flavored burst of fun, sung in Costello's liveliest nightclub act persona. It always brings me joy when I hear it.

The albums is curiously dedicated to "Cait of the Antartic" a reference to Cait O'Riordan, the woman with whom he had shared more than 15 years when the album was released. It's also a hint that their relationship, from 1986's King of America until this album, had cooled.

The conflict, visible on songs like "15 Petals" and "Alibi" would take center stage in his next album, the startlingly frank North.

Classics: "45,"  "When I Was Cruel No. 2," "Alibi," "Episode Of Blonde"

Songs I'd like to hear live : "45," "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution,)" "15 Petals," "Alibi," "My Little Blue Window," "Episode Of Blonde"

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