Lunar Boulevard, May 23, 2010

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Lunar Boulevard

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When I Was Cruel (2002)


Lunar Boulevard

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After spending the time between 1996 and 2002 recording side projects and tackling ballads and classical arrangements, Elvis Costello was finally itching to get loud and rowdy once again. With a new bassist on board and the return of Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve, Costello dubbed them The Imposters and set out to make a new kind of record while giving it a kick at the same time. The result was When I Was Cruel, a diverse and ambitious record that found him tampering with beat box sounds and good old-fashioned rock n' roll. Unfortunately the weight of the album holds it back to some degree but many of the songs here are so good that it makes it easier to overlook some of the flaws.

"45" kicks the album off in classic Costello style. It's a great rock song that compares growing older and relationships to a record collection. It's brilliant and downright infectious. "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)", "Daddy Can I Turn This?" and "Dissolve" are all great rockers that find Costello playing to his strengths while incorporating The Imposters to their maximum effect. Thomas and Nieve are great as usual and newcomer Davey Faragher is a solid bassist. Bruce Thomas had a style that was hard to duplicate but Faragher is a solid replacement and keeps things moving in the bottom end.

Aside from the louder numbers there are plenty of new touches and softer songs. "Spooky Girlfriend" is has a great soul sound while "15 Pedals" features blasts of horns and plenty of energy. "My Little Blue Window" takes a more acoustic route while "Tart" rides a wave of Nieve's signature keyboard playing. The Latin flavor of "Episode of Blonde" takes an even more interesting twist with Costello nearly rapping throughout the verses before bursting into a catchy melody during the chorus. "When I Was Cruel No.2" features a cabaret arrangement that sounds unlike anything Elvis has done before. It's a lot to take in but each song has its own unique sound, kind of similar to Spike but with more electric guitar and electronic elements sprinkled in.

There are two songs in particular that I love. "Alibi" is a fairly simple song but lyrically it's amazing and it gets better with every listen. However, the closer "Radio Silence" is far and away my favorite song here. It's haunting and absolutely stunning in its execution and delivery. It's kind of a modern-day version of "Radio, Radio" where Costello targets the various disc jockeys, talk show hosts and DJs who squander their time and fill up the airwaves with poor programing and apathetic ideas before eventually looking at himself: "But there's one thing I should have said/'The hostage will wind up dead'/It's just a comedy/The hostage is me". It's beyond amazing and deserves to be heard.

This album was hailed as a return-to-form upon release which is a bit unfair. It's not a straightforward rock album, with only a handful of tracks that stand out as loud and uptempo rockers. However, the album's weight tends to bring it down. The production is a bit too murky and it's hard to hear Pete Thomas' great chops or the small instrumental touches in the background. The album itself runs a bit too long and while the individual songs are great they don't necessarily gel together as a cohesive whole. Had some of the weaker tracks been sliced off the record would flow a bit better and feel less bulky as a result. It's not a bad album by any means but it does take some time to get into and at times it just needed a bit more energy. It may not be the best place to start for newcomers but it signified Costello's new focus on his solo career and spawned a new burst of creative output that would go even further in the next couple of years.


Tags: When I Was CruelPete ThomasSteve NieveThe Imposters45Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)Daddy Can I Turn This?DissolveDavey FaragherBruce ThomasSpooky Girlfriend15 PetalsMy Little Blue WindowTartEpisode Of BlondeWhen I Was Cruel No. 2AlibiRadio SilenceRadio, Radio

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Lunar Boulevard, May 23, 2010


Lunar Boulevard reviews When I Was Cruel.

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When I Was Cruel (2002)

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