And how we loved it when he was, letting poetic bile rip over spiky chord changes, putting the objects of his anger through the shredder.
In recent years Costello has been keeping such eclectic company as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Brodsky Quartet, but is now reunited with Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas to return to the abrasive rhythms and melodies of their heyday. He makes a record free of the stench former glories tend to cause when being recreated. Instead, the basic new wave attack is sharpened by subtle studio production techniques, nowhere better illustrated than on the taut "Alibi."
While, lyrically, the 40-something Elvis is less visceral than his younger snarling self, the same song finds him sounding just as righteously vindictive — when he sings "I Hate Your Guts" you have to hope not to be the target of his vitriol.
"Daddy Can I Turn This?" and "Dissolve" are full-on punk onslaughts that sound like they came out of Detroit, while the discomforting "15 Petals" careers along like a train on the verge of coming off the tracks.
If you did not believe Costello had another good record in him, prepare for a big surprise.