Cantankerous rock stars are strongest when their music best reflects their characters. So it is with Costello. Through all his dalliances with opera, string quartets and Bacharach, Costello has obscured most of his bile with the trappings of high art. But as When I Was Cruel proves, he's much better at squeezing his considerable rants into the skinny format of rock 'n' roll.
It's no classic, but there are reassuringly unhealthy signs of life. The brilliant title track hooks up to a clanking rhythm loop and some discreet sampling without sounding like a tragic stab at fashion. "It was so much easier when I was cruel," he observes. Easier to like, for sure.