Elvis Costello's so full of ideas and enthusiasm for different kinds of music, his last few projects have been collaborations with such widely varying artists as Burt Bacharach, the Charles Mingus Big Band and opera singer Anne Sofie Von Otter.
Perhaps encouraged by a well-chosen trilogy of his own reissues (This Year's Model, Blood and Chocolate and Brutal Youth showing the peak, end and reunion of his Attractions material, respectively), he comes out with his most rocking album in a decade.
He's not trying to reproduce his youth. With the marvelous mathematical equation of the opening "45," Costello, at 47, is well aware of his age and his original influences.
Inspired clamor like "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)" comes from the same place as his early bile; he's up for smart trip-hop samples (leavened with surf twang) on the knowing title song.
The trick for him is not to be too clever by half. And though some of the songs on "When I Was Cruel" employ the spiky avant approach and weird jazz tendencies of work on All This Cruel Beauty and Spike, he keeps the songcraft uppermost on the agenda.
There are delights throughout the collection, a wonderful sense of wordplay that creates "Alibi" and "Tart." And as complex as the music gets, with rhythms of "Spooky Girlfriend" and "Soul for Hire," the crazed tango of "Episode of Blonde" and the jagged horn charts on "15 Pedals" and "... Dust," Costello remembers that simple is more direct, but there's no need to dumb it down or pretend to be something he's not.
It's so strong overall, it may make you choose, when confronted with the option of buying the new one or the classic reissue, this year's model.