That years of screaming his guts out on record and in concert has left the former prince of power-pop drained of vitriol should be no surprise. Venting one's feelings of guilt and revenge can be a tiresome business.
But with his last two albums, Imperial Bedroom and Punch the Clock, Elvis Costello has proven that a rock artist with powerfully emotional messages can transcend the trappings of adolescent anger to produce music with added depth, yet keep the vitality of the work produced in his youth.
Unfortunately, Goodbye Cruel World is neither an extension of Costello's songwriting evolution nor a regression into his razor-edged guitar style, The new album is a rehashing of his recent excursions into a more easily digestible songwriting style, plagued by lackluster arrangements and mediocre musical hooks.
Foregoing the usually lush keyboard-oriented arrangements which have recently defined his sound, Costello emphasizes unusually mundane bass lines and drum beats to accentuate the melodies of his new compositions. Keyboardist Steve Nieve, assuming the name Maurice Worm, has been rendered musically impotent by Costello on this album, Nieve, who has in the past added depth and texture to Costello's majestic melodies has been relegated to playing, lot the most part, sparse background keyboards. The rapid piano arpeggios and staccato chords punctuating past songs are conspicuously missing from this album, leaving a vacuum unfilled by the other instrumentation.
This isn't to say there are no songs on the new album on which all the musical elements click. "The Comedians," "Love Field" and "The Deportees Club" (which contains some yelping screams that put David Lee Roth's vocal outbursts to shame) all combine evocative lyrics, strong musical hooks and adept arrangements to form powerful songs worthy of bearing Elvis Costello's name.
The other songs on the album either miss with the lyrics but are musically strong, or have eloquent messages which are diminished by weak musical vehicles, making this album one of Costello's lesser works.