CMJ New Music Monthly, June 2002

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CMJ New Music Monthly

US music magazines


Answer me

Steve Ciabattoni

Altar boy turned rock star Elvis Costello makes a kick-ass new record he can't stop talking about.

Ask Elvis Costello a question and be prepared for a thorough answer—the dude can talk. Which is why we really only had room for one answer here. Plus, he's not exactly a guy you want to cut off mid-sentence. His new record, When I Was Cruel (Island), rocks a helluva lot more than what we've heard from him in the last five or so years, including that, um, refined collaboration with Burt Bacharach and an album with Swedish opera singer Anne Sophie Van Otter. Everyday Elvis fans will consider this new album's rowdy tone a welcome return to form, but be prepared for a few sampler-and-drum-machine adventures as well. So we wanted to know a little bit about this so-called "rebirth of the cruel."

When you worked with Paul McCartney, you encouraged hint not to be bashful about making music that sounded like his signature sound. Given the more raucous sound of this new album, was there a bit of you giving yourself your own advice?

I think there are certain ways my voice sounds when I sing in a certain tempo and when I don't linger on notes and the melody is not so tender in its intention. You see, I've got like a solemn face. As a child I used the get the job of being an altar boy at funerals because of that. It's a solemn, but not miserable face. It's the same thing with my voice. If I sing in certain way I sound furious. And as I get older and I get more aware of things outside of myself, I've noticed that I can make people jump with just speaking. So there must be something to do with the pitch in my voice that I sound angry when I'm not. That's been something that I've had to temper in my singing because otherwise you mislead the listener as to what your intentions are. But you can't change things about your throat and even your teeth [laughs) and the way you create sounds. Of course it's a blessing to have access to some of these sounds, and in another way you have to be certain that your not overstating the emotion, but there's a lot of over-singing on records today. You can have over-singing in rock 'n' roll just as you can in ballads. There's a lot of over-sung power ballads on the end of blockbuster movies and we all reel back in honor from some of those. So you can go too far with the emotion of a song. I suppose you can't disguise certain things in your singing, is what I'm saying.

Find the full interview at by searching for Elvis Costello.


CMJ New Music Monthly, June 2002

Steve Ciabattoni interviews Elvis Costello.

When I Was Cruel is No. 2 on the Top 75 album chart (page 62).


2002-06-00 CMJ New Music Monthly page 13.jpg
Page scan.

Photo by Jill Furmanovsky.
2002-06-00 CMJ New Music Monthly photo 01 jf.jpg

2002-06-00 CMJ New Music Monthly cover.jpg 2002-06-00 CMJ New Music Monthly page 62.jpg
Cover and page scan.


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