Goodbye Cruel World finds Elvis Costello assuming a role that comes uncomfortably close to a torch ballad crooner. The opening cut and the album's first single, "The Only Flame in Town" is a polished blue-eyed soul duet with Daryl Hall. If that clicks, then heavier syrup is planned with a designated follow-up single in "I Wanna Be Loved." This one showcases Costello in a virtual lounge lizard act.
As a whole the album is not totally unpleasant (although the last mentioned selection presses the limits of tolerance). It is more a case that Costello has forged a career by writing music with bite or, to use his own lyrics, which "bites that the hand that feeds." This release underscores just how far he has distanced himself from his original premise.
That, however, has been intentional His reputation as a defiant young man prepared to challenge the world became a burden. It was an act he was expected to perpetuate. Some credit is due to Costello for not playing along.
This album succeeds in separating Costello from this image. He took this direction in earnest with the last release, Punch the Clock. The question is whether he has replaced it with anything viable.
The music is steeped in sentimentality, an emotion that is not well suited to Costello The themes are generally simple and the tone, glib even when hints of characteristic sarcasm creep into the lyrics.
Costello relies on his basic talents to keep the music buoyant. He is a superlative composer and he has a voice that can make triviality sound crucial.
But those things only work on the surface. There is little sense of real conviction. "Peace In Our Time," which closes the album, is one of the few instances where Costello has his heart in it.