Sure, Elvis Costello sounds crankier than he has in a while on When I Was Cruel, the fine new album he released in April. And, yeah, it features more of his own guitar playing than guest spots by respected string sections or fancy opera singers. Oh, and Burt Bacharach's not on it, either. But if it's the precocious horn-rimmed punk responsible for My Aim Is True and This Year's Model you're expecting to see at the Bronco Bowl on Saturday night, prepare to be disappointed; Costello's one of those rare talents capable of evolving a worldview beyond its cultural vogue, and Cruel shows how interesting an old guy he's become. It's hardbitten, smartly assembled art-pop Young Elvis simply couldn't have made: The title track, a bewitching swatch of real-time trip-hop spiked by a one-syllable vocal sample and a haunting piano line, bristles with the muted rancor of a midlife crisis, and "Alibi," which slows down a pungent rock-steady groove to a deliberate, bass-heavy throb, just sounds too dissatisfied to be the work of anyone else. The thing rocks, but it also sets up shop in the guest room and keeps reminding you that stuff doesn't get that much easier. In case you were wondering, this is why rock still matters.
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