Like Woody Allen, Costello has long been beset by fickle fans who prefer "the early, funny stuff" — and has sworn death before nostalgia. So what is he doing, breaking his pledge never to reunite the world's greatest backup band, the Attractions, readopting the old sound of literate fury, and giving the resulting album a title that begs the obvious? Still being true to his own aim, and reluctantly indulging our fondest wishes.
This isn't the brilliantly bitter, kid-stuff gynephobia of This Year's Model, although it may sound like it — thank goodness — with its crisp snares, fat bass riffs and gorgeously spat broadsides. He's still disappointed in women, but more disappointed in their users, as in "Sulky Girl," directed less at the title pouter than at the unworthy men who've backed her into blank-faced defensiveness. Scripting the vagaries of youth — and of sex, alcoholism, co-dependency and even middle-age nostalgia — brings out a real (if really arch) sympathy in Costello he didn't always evidence in his younger days.
That he and the Attractions — plus part-time bassist Nick Lowe — play this rich, bemusedly mature material with the angry abandon of kids makes the album title suddenly non-ironic again. You don't have to have underrated Costello's recent work to agree this is his finest album since his last with the Attractions, 1986's Blood & Chocolate.