Over the past year or so Elvis Costello would seem to have finally matched the consistent critical acclaim he has received throughout his career, with a more widespread public appreciation of his work in terms of actual record sales and richly deserved chart success.
It is also however quite possibly a reason, albeit an unconscious one, why Goodbye Cruel World, like its predecessor Punch The Clock, presents no real surprises or radical departures. Indeed, if Punch The Clock can be seen as something of a confident sidestep for Costello— an overtly 'pop' album that consolidated the re-vitalised public interest that "Pills And Soap" initiated, then Goodbye Cruel World sees him only tentatively moving forward again. By no means a great album, much of the music lacks the Attractions' usual spark, with the normally fascinating rapport between Costello's vocals and Steve Nieve's keyboards surprisingly muted, and a Langer and Winstanley production that despite the variety of musical styles, tends to wash everything over with an uninspired uniformity that often undermines any emotion or excitement.
Which is still not to say that it is by any means a bad album — as the slightly macabre "Room With No Number," the already well documented "Peace in Our Time" and the next single "The Only Flame In Town" as well as other excellent tracks such as "Joe Porterhouse," "Love Field" and "The Great Unknown" strongly attest to. It is perhaps just that this is a less consistent and inventive Elvis Costello. For example, although he has always shown a sharp, if often subtle, wit (as displayed successfully here on "The Comedians") at times the tongue is planted too firmly in the cheek, whilst the songs themselves are often too unashamedly throwaway, as in the case of the very disposable "Sour Milk-Cow Blues," or "The Deportees Club" which has a sound rooted very firmly in Costello's back pages.
Ultimately, although Goodbye Cruel World has just enough quality tracks to suffice, it offers little challenge and submits rather too willingly to a place amongst a welter of the kind of competition that so much of his past work was able to look proudly down upon from a great height. Perhaps his own previous achievements have set the standards by which he is to be judged too high, for as an LP Goodbye Cruel World is undoubtedly very good. It is just however that as an Elvis Costello LP, it is disappointing.