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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Costello's tried and tested formula
Elvis Costello at Woodstock
Costello first emerged on the post-punk scene 20 years ago
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By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online

Seven years after Elvis Costello's last proper rock record, When I Was Cruel sees him return to what he knows best.

This is him touching base with the simple, suburban guitar pop that did so well for him before he got bored and made friends with Burt Bacharach and The Brodsky Quartet.

It is more than 20 years since Costello first emerged from the post-punk scene with hits like Oliver's Army and I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down.

His new album is a return to that sound - and not many musicians could sound so similar after so long and still retain the respect of the musical fraternity.

Elvis Costello in the early days
When I Was Cruel No 2 is the real highlight
Many songs on When I Was Cruel may sound similar to past works, but that does not mean it sounds stale or uninspired - and that is why Costello is still taken seriously.

He has said that after singing so many ballads in the last few years, "it was time for a rowdy rhythm record".

Well, that is obviously rowdy in the tame sense of the word because he has hardly taken any tips from Slipknot.

But a steady tide of guitar often goes along with his usual strained drawl that makes him sound as if he really means whatever he is singing.

While still being poppy, the songs twist and turn in ways that come as nice surprises and mark him apart from other two-bit guitar chancers.


Some songs do see him run out of twists and turns pretty soon, admittedly, leaving him to repeat the same ones over and over again.

Tear Off Your Own Head is the first single to be taken from the album, with skewed harmonies, a melodic chorus and slightly psychedelic, twangy guitars.

But the next song on the CD, When I Was Cruel No 2 is the real highlight - a dark and adventurous filmic tune that would not be out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack.

The rest of the album comes somewhere in between, with the odd demented brass quartet or cack-handed pianist to add to the infectious discord.

It is not his best work, nor his most interesting - but fans will like it, and it proves that the creative juices are still flowing through his veins.

When I Was Cruel is released on Mercury Records on 15 April

Elvis Costello
"Hear a clip from When I Was Cruel No 2"
See also:

13 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Costello joins Beatles album vigil
20 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Elvis alive and well in Notting Hill
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