BOSTON (NYT) — Elvis Costello isn't losing any sleep over where he fits into today's pop scene. "I don't really care," he says almost gleefully. "I'm quite comfortable right in the thick of things or as far out as you want me to go."
Costello has been far out in recent years, recording with the sugary Burt Bacharach and the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. But he could get right back into the thick of things with a new album that reflects a long-awaited return to rock 'n' roll. Titled When I Was Cruel, it came out Tuesday, featuring "rowdy rhythm," as he writes in some of the funniest liner notes you'll read this year. He dryly adds that he used "a highly skilled team of musicians and engineers to ensure that we did not accidentally make a record that had been previously released."
Not to worry. It's well-nigh impossible for Costello to repeat himself. What he has done instead is to make a record that stands with some of his premier rock albums, Blood & Chocolate and This Year's Model.
"I can sing ballads pretty well, but there aren't too many rock 'n' roll singers left in the world that are worth a damn," he says from his hillside home in Dublin. "So I figured that it's time that I did that.
"I had done some things that were very concentrated and very disciplined, whether it was working with Burt Bacharach or Sofie von Otter. And then, suddenly, all the liberties of (rock 'n' roll) appealed to me again. I had the idea of making a record with rhythm in it for the last couple of years, but one thing and another deflected me from that, mainly tedious stuff like the music business being in an upheaval. My record company kept changing ownership, and I didn't even know who I'd be working with."
Costello is going full speed ahead regardless. "There are some people out there who are not going to like this record, because it's too harsh," he says. But it's hard to imagine a true Costello fan feeling that way. And some may even regret that it's not harsher. As he says, it's not a retro, "bash-it-out record," but rather an album that rocks with the use of contemporary recording techniques, including a rare use of sampling on his part (he samples a `60s Italian pop record by Mina on the seven-minute track, "When I Was Cruel No. 2").