Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Elvis Costello 10: Goodbye Cruel World

As his last album was a surprise hit, Elvis stuck to the formula and brought the same producers back for another go. The problem was that he had seemingly used up his capacity for pop; plus, his personal life was in the toilet. The songs he prepared for Goodbye Cruel World are dour and gloomy (hence the title), inspired by the country weepers and Richard Thompson songs he’d been obsessed with of late. Elvis himself has called this his worst album, before taking the blame off his producers for his failure to rise to the occasion and indulging the current zeal for the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, which everybody was using in those days.
The producers did what they could, reducing the previous album’s horn section to a single braying saxophone, and the backing vocals to Daryl Hall on one song and the guy from Scritti Politti on another. Repeated listens will bring out the charms of such tracks as “Love Field” and “Home Truth”, while “Worthless Thing” and the singles “The Only Flame In Town” and “I Wanna Be Loved” (itself an obscure soul cover) got toes tapping amidst the wordplay. But to get to these one had to navigate through noisy tracks like “Sour Milk-Cow Blues” and “Room With No Number”. The promise of “The Comedians” is torpedoed by a clumsy 5/4 arrangement, while “The Deportees Club”, the album’s only rocker, is taken at such a pace that the words are indiscernible. The album ends with “Peace In Our Time”, another political statement that fell on deaf ears (in America, anyway).
While a select group of fans still holds incredible affection for Goodbye Cruel World, it was skewered by the critics, and still gets slammed today. Just as the original album tried to replicate the success of its predecessor, the reissues aimed to make up for any mistakes. Along with several B-sides (including the catchy “Turning The Town Red” and “Get Yourself Another Fool”), Rykodisc included some outtakes and a handful of live acoustic tracks that show his original intent for these songs. Rhino went even further, adding even more live tracks and demos along with most of the Rykodisc extras. Through these examples one gets a better sense of how and why the record turned out like it did, as well as insight into the inner turmoil and confusion that put him at odds with his chosen career. And in a small way, they provide a transition to his next grand experiment.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions Goodbye Cruel World (1984)—2
1995 Rykodisc: same as 1984, plus 10 extra tracks
2004 Rhino: same as 1984, plus 26 extra tracks

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