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“When I Was Cruel” by Elvis Costello

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When the Grammy nominations came out last week, I was somewhat surprised to see Elvis Costello’s “When I was Cruel” up for Best Rock Album. Since I’m a huge EC fan, I immediately purchased this CD, and listened…and listened…and I figured it would grow on me.

But why sugar-coat it? “When I was Cruel” sucks. There’s not one song I would pick out as a standout. There’s too much experimentation and studio trickery (despite the promise of a return back EC’s rock roots). The first track “45” – also up for a Grammy! – is pretty standard fare, nothing special. And then there’s…um…some other songs.

Gee, I don’t even care enough to slam it. A weak recording. Elvis should seriously think about working only with the Attractions, see as the last two great CDs from him were “All this Useless Beauty” and (IMHO) “Brutal Youth.” Stay away from Swedish opera singers, Elvis, and you’ll be OK.

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About Eric Lindholm

  • Cort Fritz

    Wrong wrong wrong.

    Since when do “huge Elvis fans” pick up his latest album only when they hear it has been nominated for a Grammy?

    I admit that my first few listens didn’t enthrall me. But sometime in the second week I had the album I became hooked.

    If you are looking for classic quality Elvis check out Alibi. It’s witty, poisonous and crushingly human. Listen to Tart which is fascinating and the lyrics are beautifully crafted.

    Or grab a dance partner (you still dance, right?) and get flat out *down* to Spooky Girlfriend. Yeah, it’s silly and fun. So sue him.

    Don’t love blogging more than thinking. Don’t just post immidiately after your first cursory listen. Christ, give an album more than a week before you pan it. In fact here is your rule from now on. Whatever your longest stretch of sour grumpy moodiness is, a week, a month, whatever. Give an album at least twice that before you chase everybody else off, ok?


  • Cort,

    Sorry, that timeline was a little misleading. I purchased the CD as soon as it came out. The Grammy nomination made me think of it and, right before I wrote the review, I gave it yet another listen – probably my 4th or 5th. It’s a mess.

    Your “standout” tracks are, to me, instantly forgettable. I can’t even recall “Alibi”, “Tart” is a misfire of strained vocals, and…what?…”dance” to “Spooky Girlfriend”? What kind of dance would that be?

    Thanks for your comments.

  • I too, bought “When I Was Cruel” the week it came out, I’ve been an Elvis Costello fan since 1978, have the badges and everything.

    “When I Was Cruel” isn’t a bad album, but it isn’t a great album. It’s just ok, and I expect better from Elvis Costello.

    I think the album is a symptom and example of how lacklustre mainstream rock and pop music in 2002.

  • All This Useless Beauty and Brutal Youth are great Elvis albums? Lord have mercy, I can’t quite remember a single hook on the first, and only maybe “Kinder Murder” as anything like a classic song on the latter. Those are precisely the absolutely LEAST inspired records he’s made.

    Also, the Imposters, his current backing band that were the central players on this outstanding album are simply the Attractions with a new bass player.