Elvis Costello is a very witty fellow nine-tenths of the time, but he only comes up with matching music for the remaining tenth.
The hard edge has completely disappeared from his creations, and what can only be described as a flabby softness remains. This record is meant to be played at a volume of one or two, as nice-nice background soundtrack for life going on as normal.
Yes, most of the music on this record I would rather forget, but the lyrics are all right. Even the most potentially banal offerings never fall below "fair." "The Only Flame In Town" is "just another dumb mushy love song," but listen to this: "He struck a match and it lit up her face / We should have struck a match, girl / To burn down the whole place." That's pretty classy, isn't it? Or: "Turned my heart to a cinder / And with each passing day / You're less tender and more tinder / You're not the only flame in town."
The best lyrics are on "The Great Unknown." The second verse is peculiarly strong, with Costello singing "My my my Delilah / Who's the butcher that you harbour? / Take the rich man to the cleaners / And the strong man to the barber / From her face down to her torso / Sort of gruesome, only more so / Hooks and eyes, fingers and thumbs / Ladies and gentlemen, here she comes / The great unknown." The chorus is just as haunting: "What shall we sing at a wedding or a wake / What shall we cherish and for whose sake?"
The worst song is probably ... well, lyrically, there isn't a worst song. Many of the numbers have equally drab music, so I won't bother trying to decide on the most unenjoyable.
I haven't followed Costello's career very closely, and Goodbye Cruel World makes me want to go looking for more of this kind of stuff, hopefully with better music to back up the good lyrics. It will probably make you feel the same thing, unless you're satisfied with the mellow energy level Costello maintains throughout.
Buy this for the music if you like the single, "The Only Flame..." Buy this for the lyrics if you enjoy challenging content.