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Not so cruel
Categories: Music, Utrinque Paratus

Elvis Costello packs poetry into latest project

By Leigh E. Rich

Elvis Costello
When I Was Cruel
Grade: A

Elvis Costello wants to be your spooky girlfriend. Oh, and he is. The barely month-old When I Was Cruel emulates Costello at his best—think My Aim Is True and Blood and Chocolate—and proves yet again the musical and poetic artistry this Londoner packs into every project.

Though he’s been traveling down a different tine of the fork in the road known as the 1990s, collaborating with Burt Bacharach and opera star Anne Sofie von Otter, making cameo appearances in television and film, and composing his first score for the London Symphony Orchestra, When I Was Cruel is a return to the spunky, bizarre, and ever-lovable Costello who gave us “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “Radio Radio.”

Despite its title, however, Cruel is a less brooding, more optimistic Costello—well, as cheerful as good, ol’ E.C. gets. The upbeat, rock ’n’ roll of “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” the downright merriment of “My Little Blue Window,” and the Austin Powers groove of love song “15 Petals” reveal a softer side of Costello without losing his trademark edginess: “I love you twisted / And I love you straight / I’d write it down but I can’t concentrate / Words won’t obey they do as they please / And all I am left with are these / 15 petals / One for every year I spent with you / Jewels and precious metals will never do.”

And while “45,” “Alibi,” “Tart,” and “Spooky Girlfriend” will churn out E.C. fans more tenacious than Martha Plimpton in 200 Cigarettes, the track that deserves repeated playback is “Episode of Blonde.” The temperamental sax and flugel horn mix nicely with Costello’s biting lyrics, which speak for themselves: “So you jumped back with alarm / Every Elvis has his army / Every rattlesnake its charm / Can you still hear me? / Am I coming through just fine? / Your memory was buried in a simple box of pine.”

Forget his laments that “it was so much easier / When I was cruel,” the sensitive, millennium Costello measures up to the melancholy music man E.C. aficionados have come to adore.

Elvis Costello performs with The Imposters 8 p.m., Sunday, June 2, at The Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., $35, 16+, (303) 830-TIXS. Costello also will perform live before the show at 5 p.m. at Twist & Shout, 300 E. Alameda Ave., (303) 777-6252. 

Rich, L. E. (2002, May 29). Not so cruel: Elvis Costello packs poetry into latest project. CU-Denver Advocate.

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