Elvis Costello does himself proud on 'When I was Cruel'

At some point New Wave became Old Wave, and Elvis Costello has been cranking out records longer than the other Elvis did.

Like his namesake, the British Elvis started strong, sank into a slump and then mounted a career comeback. "When I Was Cruel" (Island/Def Jam), his first solo album since 1996's "All This Useless Beauty," ranks with his best work in the past couple of decades.

The opening cut, the autobiographical "45," could pass as an outtake from his first album, and that's high praise. "Tear Off Your Own Head," "Dissolve" and "Daddy Can I Turn This?" also sound great loud.

The best of the slow tunes is the album's seven-minute centerpiece, "When I Was Cruel No. 2," which includes spaghetti-Western guitar, a repeating sample of the '60s Italian pop singer Mina and a lyric that quotes Abba's "Dancing Queen."

Less successful are some of the other ballads, where Costello's strained, raspy singing undermines the message (he addresses death, cheating and show biz, among other topics). One of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, Costello sometimes writes melodies that his voice is incapable of handling.


-- Steven WineAssociated Press

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