With saucy sax and syncopation, Goodbye Cruel World is off to a misleading start, threatening to present more of the musically disjointed moodiness that offended Costello's last two releases. It changes key with the next cut, however, and returns to the kind of adulterated pop that elevated Elvis to his cynical yet sapient cloud above the other contenders.
The melodies are relentlessly persuasive here; their fluidity is accentuated by a usually dry treatment of Costello's voice that allows every nuance of genuine sweetness as well as the sung sneer to poke through the mix. On "Worthless Thing," the last phrase is delivered up close to the mic in a final sarcastic intimacy, like a signature on hate mail. Pushed by a crisp high hat, this song also is punctuated by an occasional dash of clean tambourine.
Costello calmly runs a gauntlet of emotions and musical styles, rocking back to the roots in "Sour Milk Cow Blues," doing rhythmic double-takes in the eerie reggae of "Room With No Number," spewing a calculated stutter in the barreling "Deportee's Club," and crooning with mournful sweetness through the droning "Love Field."
Costello always seems concerned with making his view fit into neat packages; excessive breaks and drawn out endings are rare. The man wants to get onstage, shoot the laser tongue through the velvet lips and jump out of the spotlight unscathed by vagrant vamps. A curious (and sole) exception on the album is found on "Room With No Number"'s bouncy extended ending. Snatches of frantic silent movie piano run through the chorus with no less than 30 bars.
Taking aim at everything from the dirty politics of romance ("The Only Flame In Town," "Home Truth") to the dirty romance of politics ("Peace In Our Time"), this series of concise musical and moral statements is surely one of Costello's most appreciable efforts to date.