Allentown Morning Call, May 11, 2002

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When I Was Cruel

Elvis Costello

Len Righi

To the remaining keepers of the flame, a new Elvis Costello album is as much a cause for anxiety as anticipation. Will it, they wonder, further tarnish the reputation of a once-brilliant talent? Well, they can breathe easy, and maybe even get happy. This year's model, When I Was Cruel, while a notch or two below Costello's very best work, is certainly respectable. In fact, you wouldn't mind hearing Costello perform at least five of these 15 tracks in concert. Two are rockers — the simmering "45," where Costello spins together, with casual brilliance, a tale of war, marriage, birth and betrayal, and the throbbing, "Paperback Writer"-like "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll's Revolution)," which after enumerating the ways a woman can emasculate a man, counsels ditching those destructive behaviors. The other three are ballads — the twangy, David Lynch-like title track, which includes a quote from Abba's "Dancing Queen"; "Radio Silence," which in content could be "Radio Radio" 25 years later, and "Alibi," where Costello demolishes every excuse for failure known to man and woman. Yes, Costello's aim goes awry now and then. But if you've ever wondered what the difference is between a poet and a hack, here it is.

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Allentown Morning Call, May 11, 2002


Len Righi reviews When I Was Cruel.


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