After the Stax-Volt power of Punch the Clock, Goodbye Cruel World was bound to be a disappointment, both to long time Costello fans who appreciated the albums coherence and to first-timers grooving on the steady beat and marching band sounds of the TKO horns.
Goodbye Cruel World is a letdown, but not necessarily for the reasons to be expected. The songwriting is generally tight, and the lyrics are up to Costello's usual standards, but somehow this album just doesn't mesh with itself.
Individually, any song on the record is a fairly accurate representation of what Costello has done in the past and what he plans for the future, but put together as a package, the album seems muddled and a little confused.
When the stylus first hits vinyl, the Costello fan is sure he's finally got Elvis pegged. The opening song, "The Only Flame in Town," seems like the logical successor to "Everyday I Write the Book": Elvis' pop sensibilities are in top form, as lounge lizard horns weave their way throughout earnest vocals by Costello and Darryl Hall of Hall and Oates.
After this auspicious opening though, things start to go down hill. The pop stylings of "The Only Flame in Town" give way to selections that would be more at home on Costello's 1982 masterpiece Imperial Bedroom, before sliding head-first into "Inch by Inch," which sounds as if it belongs back on Punch the Clock.
Matters are further confused by the addition on side two of "The Deportees Club," Costello's most straight ahead rock song since his 1978 album This Year's Model. With Costello's trademark clangy guitar intro and the Attractions patented backbeat, "Deportees Club" is guaranteed to start a dancing rhythm in anyone's feet.
Don't start dancing too quickly, however, as there's not another song on the record with the same kind of infectious enthusiasm.
Goodbye Cruel World is certainly not a bad album, but it lacks the groove that runs through Costello's best works. With the exception of Taking Liberties, a compilation of outtakes and singles, Costello's records have always had a strong theme to hold on to, whether it be the garage rock of This Year's Model or the pseudo-sophistication of Imperial Bedroom.
Deprived of that continuity on Goodbye Cruel World, Costello's songs sound naked and just a little precocious.