Elvis Costello : When I Was Cruel

Costello's rock'n'roll comeback. Not bad...

Cantankerous rock stars are always strongest when their music best reflects their characters. So it is with [a]Elvis Costello[/a], the spiteful, verbose punk misfit who’s spent most of the last 15 years trying to do anything but rock. Through all his dalliances with opera singers, string quartets and [a]Burt Bacharach[/a], [a]Elvis Costello[/a] has musically obscured most of his bile with the trappings of high art. But as ‘When I Was Cruel’ proves, he’s much better at squeezing his considerable rants into the skinny format of rock’n’roll.

It’s no classic, but there are reassuringly unhealthy signs of life. The lacerating and quite brilliant title track hooks up to a clanking rhythm loop and some discrete sampling, without ever sounding like a tragic stab at fashion. “It was so much easier when I was cruel,” he observes saltily. Easier to like, for sure.

John Mulvey