When I Was Cruel

When I Was Cruel

4.1 10
by Elvis Costello
Just when recent forays into Broadway-styled pop (Painted from Memory) and fringe classical music (For the Stars) made it seem like the artist formerly known as Declan McManus had laid his angry-young-man persona to rest once and for all, along comes this raw-nerved, vein-popping


Just when recent forays into Broadway-styled pop (Painted from Memory) and fringe classical music (For the Stars) made it seem like the artist formerly known as Declan McManus had laid his angry-young-man persona to rest once and for all, along comes this raw-nerved, vein-popping collection of songs that prove Elvis is very much in touch with his inner nasty man. It's almost nostalgic, in some sense, to hear Costello spit out clipped, cutting phrases as his bandmates kick up a cloud of new wave dust on sneer-fests like "Tear Your Own Head Off" and "Dissolve." He's found some new guises for that old attitude, however, making it go global on "15 Petals," which parries the choruses with klezmer-styled horns, and trotting out the melodica to give "Soul for Hire" an ominous, "Watching the Detectives"-like oomph. Fortunately, Costello doesn't attempt to pretend the last two decades never happened at all: His concerns have grown more adult -- even if he is every bit as obsessive and compulsive about pondering them. The "Spooky Girlfriend" of the song so titled is far more richly drawn than the off-putting cuties of My Aim Is True, for instance. Likewise, the literary tenor of mini-short stories like "Daddy Can I Turn This?" and the title track (which employs an eerie vocal loop, courtesy of Italian pop diva Mina) will prompt as much footnoting as foot-tapping. Given Costello's propensity for skipping from concept to concept, it may be too soon to call this a return to form. It is, at the very least, a welcome stopover at a rejuvenating port of call.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Given the flurry of activity from Elvis Costello at the turn of the century -- concerts, guest appearances, reissues, a movie role that was barely seen outside of off-hours on BET -- it's hard to believe that he spent four years without releasing an album of new compositions...and if you don't count the Bacharach collaboration, it's been a full six years since his last album. Either way, it was the longest stretch of time between albums in Costello's career, capping off a decade of records where he seemed to determine to flaunt his versatility, range, and ambition, which may be the reason why the focused, stripped-down artiness and resurgent acerbic wit sounds particularly fresh on When I Was Cruel. As such, it's easy to be tempted to call the record a return to form, but it's not an accurate assessment, not least because it's not as strong as Painted From Memory. It is accurate to call it the most Costello Costello record since probably Blood & Chocolate -- one that maintains a consistent tone, bristles with nasty humor, and is filled with carefully written lyrics (some could call them labored) and knowing, clever musicality. Since it's a post-Froom, post-Ribot production, it's murky and hazy, with muffled drums, shoebox guitars, obscured loops, and angled arrangements all signifying that while this is his first pop album in years, it's still a serious experience (but fortunately much livelier than the Froom productions, and not nearly as mannered or affected). In other words, it's exactly what it was supposed to be and it's successful on those terms, but that shouldn't be mistaken as a creative rebirth along the lines of, say, Love & Theft, or a record that will play outside of the cult, since the sound and approach is pretty insular. Given all the care that was put in the production, the variety of the music, and the craft of the lyrics, it's no surprise that there are memorable moments -- whether it's the horns on "Episode of Blonde" or the dynamite guitar on "Tear off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," -- but they're moments in songs, not songs themselves. Each song is so tightly wound, only those who automatically listen to new Costello records obsessively upon release will unravel their mysteries. Those listeners will find plenty to obsess over and will be satisfied, since, outside of the Bacharach album, it's his best in a long time. But in order to know that, you will have to have diligently listened to everything from Spike on -- and if you got off the bus around then, it's harder than ever to get back on.
Rolling Stone - Barry Walters
Generous in its cruelty, Costello's latest album makes a master's gifts matter again.
Entertainment Weekly - David Browne
"A"... Bristling with an electric current that seemingly short-circuited years ago, When I Was Cruel is the best work Costello has produced sine Blood & Chocolate back in the mid-'80s.

Product Details

Release Date:


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Elvis Costello   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Harmonica,Electric Bass,Cymbals,Electric Guitar,Harmonium,Vocals,Background Vocals,Baritone,Melodica,spanish guitar,fender rhodes,Piano (Grand),Fender Jazz Bass,Fender Telecaster,Guitar Loops
Steve Nieve   Keyboards,Hammond Organ,Clavinet,Melodica,Vibes,Piano (Grand),Pianette,Vox Continental
Davey Faragher   Bass
Curtis Fowlkes   Trombone
Steve Kennedy   Background Vocals
Roy Nathanson   Alto Saxophone
Pete Thomas   Percussion,Drums,Tambourine,Shaker
Jay Rodriguez   Tenor Saxophone
Leo Pearson   Tabla,Guiro

Technical Credits

Elvis Costello   Producer,Horn Arrangements
Kevin Killen   Engineer
Imposter   Producer
Steve Averill   Art Direction
Amelia Stein   Portrait Photography
Ciaran Cahill   Producer,Engineer
Leo Pearson   Producer,Rhythm Production
Kieran Lynch   Producer

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When I Was Cruel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
**** Bacharach was too much for me. This is a return to Elvis at his snarlingly arch best. The lyrics are, of course, clever, and pay off attentive listening. In relation to the Allmusic Guide review, could I point out that ''to plug'' means ''to promote'', something a young Elvis might have done when talking to a shaven headed seaside thug of a newspaper man? Obssessive listening can pay off :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unless something else mighty good comes along this gets my vote for album of the year.I can't stop listening to it.Episode of Blonde and Spooky Girl are my favorite songs on this CD,but they are all great.Thanks Elvis!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Elvis Costello has been making great music since the early 70's, but it has been quite a long time since Costello created such a great rock album. At a time when 70's music seems to be booming, Costello brings a very rock oriented album, adding samples and beat box sounds to modernize his music. Thus the album sounds like the old Costello that rocked, while incorporating some modern elements to make it in with the times. Songs like ''Tart'' and ''Alibi'' are some of the best that Elvis Costello has ever done, and his guitar sounds amazing all throughout the album! His lyrics are very witty too with lines such as ''I love you just as much as I hate your guts,'' as we also learn he is not afraid to speak his mind. A must buy for any fan of rock & roll music.
Guest More than 1 year ago
E.C. isnt ''returning'' to anything. Astute listeners will note a familiar continuity and elements of style in this, his latest. Most notable is his continued collaboration with Steve Nieve, whose musical genius is as subtle (and/or over the top) and clever as E.C.'s lyrics.
Guest More than 1 year ago
By far one of EC's best collection of tunes in years. A roller coaster of similes, twisted words, and of course, catchy hooks!! This album is a must for all fans, from Last Years Model to Spike to All This Useless Beauty. War Buddy Holly, Fender JazzMasters, and ''Watching The Detectives''! It deserves 4 1/2 Stars or more!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what the folks from All Music were listening to, but in the title track Elvis does NOT mention a rectal plug. The verse goes ''You were a spoiled child with a record to plug, and I was a shaven-headed sea-side thug''. Perhaps the folks at All Music have had a Freudian slip, but Elvis has not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
...only to be kind, I'm sure. Buy this record and enjoy it many times over. One question though: While he's gazing out My Little Blue Window, is he sitting down in the Blue Chair...wearing his favorite Green Shirt...and Red Shoes...?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great disc! It's great to hear him knocking off some Pop/R&R tracks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago