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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 15 April 2002
Why is Elvis Costello still making albums this good? By all rights, he should be an embarrassment by now, a faded punk rock icon whose time has long passed. Instead, he is outpacing most of the younger guys in terms of output, energy, quality and passion. This album is the work of a man who loves music, and loves discovery, someone who is hell bent on creating something new and exciting even if it costs him the affections of fickle-minded listeners and journalists.
I don't know how he does it. This album is a tour de force, like Dylan's Time Out Of Mind but more playful and full of dark fun. Run out and get it, put it on, and howl at the moon...
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on 26 April 2002
"When I was cruel" signals Costello doing that which he does best. It is in turns stroppy, sensitive, dense, simple, and mostly inspired.
After the beard years and the ballad years we now have a return to the noisy years. Much of the musical sound on this record is reminiscent of Attraction era music. Studio layering does little to enhance this, though Elvis obviously thinks otherwise. The best songs, as always,are the most simple.
45, Alibi, My Little Blue Window, to name a few are classis Costello. Lyrically taut, musically soaring, a perfect reason to buy this.
The title track, When I was Cruel, carries sonic echoes of "I want you". Brooding, repetitive, and vintage! Indeed this new release represents not so much a return to form as evidence that he has always been on form.
Episode of Blonde carries Elvis into new territory and works superby well. The latin shuffle of the verse and the pop lushness of the chorus combine into a veritable tour de force. Live it must be a wonder to behold.
Of course there are a few songs which don't work. "Daddy can I turn this" and "Soul for Hire" are messy, and unsatisfactory. But Elvis has always had a few dud tracks on every release he's ever made. The man, fans must remember, is not perfect.
"Maintaining Radio Silence" brings the recording to a perfect end. Costello's enunciation is spine-chilling, and the lyric follows in a tradition of diva last-album songs.(I want to Vanish, Forever, Waiting for the end of the world, etc)
Repeated listening brings its rewards. "When I was Cruel" shows Costello to be in a league of one. He is funny at times, cruel at times (despite protests to the contrary) and achingly tender at times. Buy "When I was Cruel" and prepare to be entranced by the beloved entertainer!
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on 25 April 2002
How many 47 year old rock stars have made a collection of songs as fresh, inventive & snarling as this? While most performers rest on their dubiuosly earned laurels Costello is still there experimenting & producing mighty fine tunes with literate (literary?) lyrics. The songs are melodic, tuneful, skewed, rocking etc... The title track is worth the price of the Cd alone - only someone as musically knowledgeable as Costello would know about Mina let alone have the courage to sample her, and to excellent effect I may add! This album is not 'a return to form' - the bloke's never been off form in the first place!
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on 12 April 2015
This album arrived after Costello's Bacharach diversion, a pleasant enough LP but one the fans didn't go back to that much. When it appeared, When I Was Cruel was recognized as his most adventurous non-collab album since, perhaps, Almost Blue. Loops and beats, and thank goodness he held on to some of the band he'd been playing with or that's ALL it would've been.

But like every album he's done since-- and including-- Spike, this album is too long. Costello's record companies should've enforced a 'dozen of the best' rule.
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on 31 March 2002
The lazy view is that this is one of Elvis' cyclical returns to rock, and sure 45, Tear off your own head, Daddy Can I Turn This, and particularly Dissolve are rowdy in extremis. But there's so much more. Soul for Hire is like a good song off Spike and My Little Blue Window acoustically rocks like Blood & Chocolate's "Crimes of Paris".
But most interestingly are Elvis sampling and beat looping and trickery on the two Dust tracks (which are great), Spooky Girlfriend and the title track.
Look I'm a huge EC fan and maybe I'm biased, but this is a great record and like all of EC's stuff (and unlike a lot of current releases) it benefits from repeated plays. Who else has a body of work like Costello? Who else is releasing albums this good after 25 years? Sting and co.? You must be joking.
Buy this record, thank me later...
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on 22 April 2002
Up there with his very best. Intelligent, witty, scary, melodically strong, always sonically challenging, this is a powerful record and far from over-long as some reviewers have stated. The title track is pure sustained menace and a massive advancement in Costello's approach to music making. The use of his beloved cheap electric guitar and all manner of rhythmic gizmos displays a fresh approach to his musicmaking, and he is clearly enjoying it.
His band are clearly happy and having a gas playing on an album that despite its (at times) complex studio layering, is infact a collection of songs to rock and roll on stage - did anyone catch the Astoria gig? Well if not, i can assure you the songs stand up maybe even better live - Episode of Blonde just soared and 15 Petals had everyone grooving. When I was Cruel saw Costello drop in crazy distorted samples as his band followed the twists and turns of sound...fabulous stuff.
Back to the album: Spook Girlfriend is witty and razor sharp, and Daddy is just plain scary...listen to the screaming backing vocals provided by the new Liveprool wunder-kid Steven Kennedy on that one!
If you love Costello you have to buy this. If you are not sure, you will be won over - never mind light-weights likethe Strokes and Stripes and the playing-it-safe-but -nice U2, Costello beats the pants off them all and how. Tremdouse stuff Declan.
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A great album-- not so much a "return to rock" as a bold new direction, this album is groovy and funky and dark and funny. It ranks up their with his best work (think Imperial Bedroom and Blood & Chocolate, but it doesn't sound anything like either one).
The "rock n' roll" songs are fun, but the real meat of the album is on strange ones like the title track and "Spooky Girlfriend." You are not likely to find a better album in the next 12 months!
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on 29 May 2002
Elvis Costello's problem is that he has produced so many great albums over the years that he finds himself judged by his own very high standards. We expect outstanding music from him, and sometimes feel a little disappointed, even when he produces albums which almost nobody else can rival.
When I Was Cruel is a case in point. It's a marvellous album, showcasing most of the styles which EC has mastered over the years. I can't think of another British artist who could hope to rival this. If you like EC, you'll like this.
Oh, and it is NOT a 'return to form'. This implies that EC was 'off form' with his last couple of albums. That was emphatically not the case. All This Useless Beauty and Painted From Memory were outstanding albums. If you haven't got them, put them in your shopping basket with this...
Four stars, then. I can't give it five because it's not his absolute best work. It's those high standards, you see...
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on 16 April 2002
After noodling around for for years and generally testing the patience of his most hardcore fans (and I'm one) this really is a massive return to form and worthy of inclusion in one of the greatest bodies of work of any artist over the past 40 years or so. The lyrics grate a little in places...Elvis tends to be unneccesarily wordy in places (its a common fault with much of his later work) but that said, its forgiveable. Inspiring and totally contemporary. Elvis is still king.
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on 11 November 2016
This album is a MONSTER. An Attractions LP in all but name (original bassist Bruce Young is sadly absent but them's the breaks), this filler-free sequence of snarling, splenetic songs - rocket-powered by a turbulent, hard-boiled production job - was the toughest thing Elvis had released in years when it first reared its ugly mug back in 2002 and, more than a decade later, it still sounds like it's mopping up blood and spitting out broken teeth. As much as I like some (most) of his post-'80s work, When I Was Cruel is my favourite of Elvis's album since Blood & Chocolate, maybe even Get Happy!! - yes, it's honestly THAT good.
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