With last year's Punch the Clock, singer/songwriter Elvis Costello edged dangerously close to valium pop with overly complex arrangements, the TKO horns and keyboardist Steve Nieve's overplaying. But with Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis moves back into top form with a multi-textural collection that seems like a more logical follow up to Imperial Bedroom. Here, horns, strings and piano don't overpower this intimate work and Elvis' singing is more emotion-packed than ever.
His duet with Daryl Hall on the blue-eyed soul number "The Only Flame in Town" is such a fluid blend, it's hard to tell who is singing what part. "Room With No Number" is a paranoid tale of two lovers sneaking to a hotel, and "Inch By Inch" is a jazzy, snap-your-fingers tune reminiscent of Peggy Lee's "Fever." In "Worthless Thing," Elvis takes shots at Elvis Presley imitators — "Las Vegas body snatchers" — and MTV — "They're going to take this cable and stick it down your throat."
As Costello gets older, his veneer of cynicism is breaking down as the cry for companionship in his remake of "I Wanna Be Loved" points to. The off-beat, happy-go-lucky musical shuffle of "The Comedians" is an interesting contrast to the lyrical theme, which is an ode to phoney, fair weather friends.
Musically this album is textural without overproduction. With the exception of the honky-tonk "Sour Milk Cow Blues" and the rock 'n' roll "The Deportees Club," this album doesn't rock like earlier Costello, but these intelligent pop masterpieces grow in dimension, especially upon repeated listenings.
It is interesting to note that Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve is mysteriously missing from the album credits. A "Maurice Worm" is credited with "random racket" and there are four pictures of each member on the front and back of the jacket, but one of the figures is hooded with a fencing mask. Is Steve dead?