Elvis Costello could be the best kept secret in pop music. He owns the best album of the last six years, This Year's Model. Following the success of Punch The Clock, which featured Costello's first and only U.S. chart entry, the top twenty "Everyday I Write The Book," is Costello's latest LP, Goodbye Cruel World.
While the whole album is well put together and is a competent cohesive collection, there is one song that is a legitimate tour de force—"The Only Flame In Town." "Flame" is a mellow ditty that features Daryl Hall on vocals and demonstrates why Costello is acknowledged as one of, if not the best, contemporary song writers: "Thought I saw your face in the fire, but it's so hard to remember / even an inferno can cool down to an ember / now you're not the only flame / you're not the only flame in town."
Goodbye Cruel World is a stretching out of sorts for Costello. Gone is the electrified, frenetic, pulsating style that established Costello as an innovator among the "new wave" artists in the late 1970s. In its place is a more laid back style that shows Costello experimenting with different vocal styles and more complicated arrangements. For instance, the abstract piano work on "Room With No Number" is a break from previous Costello compositions, and sets the theme of the song.
As of late, Costello seems to be infatuated with the blues. His style on most of the cuts on Cruel World owes much to the Motown of the sixties. This is just one small way that the black artists' influence manifests itself in pop music.
On "Peace In Our Time," Costello strays into Bob Dylan territory: "Just another tiny island invaded when he's got the whole world in his hands / And the heavyweight champion fights in the international propaganda star wars / There's already one spaceman in the White House, what do you want another one for / And the bells take their toll in a victory chime / And we can thank God we finally have peace in our time.
His band, The Attractions, plays a wide variety of instruments that keep the album from getting boring: a trumpet here, a sax there, keeps one's attention. In the hierarchy of contemporary pop, Costello, via his intelligence and songwriting skills, looms over the scads of noise-makers like Quiet Riot and Def Leppard like Mount Rushmore. Elvis Costello is the thinking man's musician.