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Review of When I Was Cruel
Times, 2002-04-12
- David Sinclair

 

When I Was Cruel, 3/5

It is a long time since Elvis Costello wore the right trousers for a rock star. But in between firming up his latest plans to conduct easy-listening maestro Rolf Harris performing a concerto for wobbleboard with the London Symphony Orchestra and the cast of The Simpsons on ice (I made some of that up), the post-punk renaissance man has actually found time to make a bona fide, file-under-pop album.

Recorded, for the most part, with a basic band line-up that includes former Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, When I Was Cruel (Mercury) is a long, complex collection of songs with melodies and lyrics that range from the enchanting to the hopelessly entangled. The opening track, 45, is a stunning song, in which a handful of brief, pithy verses mould a postwar history of the pop record into a metaphor for various staging posts on the journey from birth to middle-age: “Bass and treble heal every hurt/There’s a rebel in a nylon shirt”. 15 Petals boasts a bone-shaking rhythm and a brilliant horn arrangement (by Costello) while When I Was Cruel No 2 hitches a Dylan-esque nightmare lyric to a supremely moody twanging guitar à la Watching the Detectives.

 
         
 

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