When I Was Cruel

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Costello loves to play the mad inventor, mixing exotic rhythms, jazzy melodies and baffling metaphors into songs that dazzle for their strangeness rather than any feeling they convey. But Costello is at his best when he kicks back and reverts to the witty post-punker he was in 1978, a bespectacled dork with a chip on his shoulder and an uncanny knack for turning out catchy tunes. This album is so much fun, and Costello's best in a long time, because of how often he returns to that clever post-punker mode. Instead of seeming dated, these moments feel right in tune with the current resurgence of guitar rock, and songs such as Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution) and 45 are as good as the better songs by any of Britain's current up-and-comers. He may be getting as fleshy as the original Elvis, but at this rate he'll never be as irrelevant.