Exclaim!, June 2002

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When I Was Cruel

Elvis Costello

Chuck Molgat

After several years spent alternating between creative exile and run of the mill duet action, Elvis Costello has decided to stop making music for his fans' parents. When I Was Cruel finds the geeky punk poet of old rocking harder than he has since his 1986 masterpiece Blood and Chocolate. The disc would almost certainly have been released under the trusty auspices of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, were it not for the fact bass player Bruce Thomas wasn't invited to the studio this time around (apparently the notoriously difficult four-stringer and E.C. aren't the fastest of friends these days). Instead, keyboard player Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas cozy up to former Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker bass man Davey Faragher. Not surprisingly, the result is tight and competent backing unit for these 15 new tunes. It's not all speedy bass runs and distorted tremelo guitar though; there's plenty of little percussive nuances, slow, sparse arrangements and weighty, wordy workouts here too, but it all fits remarkably well together. The song "45" (perhaps penned three years ago by the now 48-year-old artist) is a composed yet vitriolic follow-up to "Radio Radio" that purports to bite somebody's hand (maybe his own), while "When I Was Cruel No. 2" finds Costello playing around with sampled Italian female vocals to eerie, unorthodox effect. If this is what Costello sounded like when he was cruel, here's hoping he avoids being kind for a while longer.

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Exclaim!, June 2002

Chuck Molgat reviews When I Was Cruel.


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