Bernardsville News, August 16, 1984
Costello's summer release
Of the new music released during the summer of 1984, Elvis Costello's Goodbye Cruel World will probably not go down as the most memorable album.
With Bruce Springsteen dominating the charts, Prince owning the dance floors, and perennial heart breakers Elton John and Billy Joel filling the air waves, most pop categories are heavily covered, leaving Costello little room to crack the mainstream.
But for fans of this temperamental Englishman, the new album might just hold a new title as unique as the songwriter is original: enigmatic record of the season.
While Springsteen has clearly found his niche in the rock world by dramatizing life in small town U.S.A., Costello seems a man aimlessly adrift in the pop current. Out of the new wave era but far from a typical punker, Costello established himself in the late 1970s as the most intriguing song writer from the British shores. But today, despite a world of talent, he is still sketching stories fueled with anger and confusion. However, differing from his earlier pieces that snarled wickedly with lightening paced music, we now have Costello's anger without the musical bite, vindictive songs cushioned in clean albiet light-hearted music.
Nowhere is this more apparent in "Worthless Thing," a song whose title appropriately appraises its own artistic value. In describing his nameless subject, Costello belittles the "worthless one" as being caught in mass society's trappings.
"You can live forever in a split second of fame. Come on down the price is right what's your name."
But despite his contempt for this person of "tiny mind," Costello sings in a mundane way, completely lacking the sinister tone the lyrics require for effectiveness.
Along with "Love Field," an embarrassingly mushy that ends side one, "Worthless Thing" is among the worst songs Costello has ever recorded.
The song to have gotten the most airplay from the album is "The Only Flame In Town," a remarkably tame song again addressed to a nameless lover. It too is a dreary attempt at a love song, offering little of the gutsy emotion that brought Costello extensive recognition in the first place.
Of the remaining songs on side one, only "Room With No Number" and "Inch by Inch" deserve repeated listenings. Both are uptempo numbers carried along with feverious clacking of percussion instruments played well by Luis Jardim.
What makes the album truly disconcerting is the marked difference between the second side and the first. While the first side trudges along with uninspired playing and singing, side two contains some of the most intelligent and scintillating material Costello has recorded in years.
After getting past the opening number, yet another soapy ballad entitled "I Wanna Be Loved," side two is injected with spirited music and crafty writing.
The often inscrutable one is teasingly vague in "The Comedians," bitter sweet in "Sour Milk-Cow Blues," haunting and macabre in "The Great Unknown."
With his band, The Attractions, performing at break-neck speed, Costello is potently cynical in "The Deportees Club," perhaps the best rocker he's recorded since "Pump It Up" on the This Year's Model album.
And, to switch gears and end the album on a reflective note, Costello follows with "Peace In Our Time" to conclude the album. Quite the opposite of the firey "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" which Costello used as a forceful ending to his much heralded Armed Forces album, this song is sung gently over soft backing music. Yet its clout is just as strong as the aforementioned number, its political references as clear as the song is beautiful.
"They're lighting a bonfire upon every hilltop in the land. Just another tiny island invaded when he's got the whole world in his hands. And the Heavyweight Champion fights in the International Star Wars. There's already one spaceman in the White House what do you want another one for?"
Although this may be the most easy listening album Costello has put out, it is far from his best Missing sorely is keyboard wiz Steve Nieve, whose quick-fingered piano and synthesizer fills worked wonderously over the years to accentuate Costello's raspy barbs.
But it seems to Costello's own indecision and lack of musical direction that is preventing him from putting out consistently good material throughout his recordings.
Costello's Aug. 15 concert at the Garden State Arts Center will be reviewed in this section next week by writer David Polakiewicz.
Bernardsville News, August 16, 1984