Monday, June 26, 2017

Before We Say Goodbye to 'Cruel World'

Admittedly, while trying to illustrate how Elvis Costello may have saved a couple of songs from 'Goodbye Cruel World' by reworking them and giving them to other artists, I have been rough on his 1984 album. Let me tell you, it's no fun to speak ill of a hero. What's something I can say that's positive about the album? While proclaiming my affinity for Roy Orbison's "The Comedians" and Tracie's "(I Love You) When You Sleep," I hope I made it clear when you strip away the Langer/Winstanley production, the demos from this era, particularly the solo ones, prove the bones of fine (if not great, in some cases) songs were there. In the liner notes for the 1995 reissue, Costello writes that "the latest fad," the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, "along with the veneer of Solid State recording... does more than anything else to 'datestamp' this record." I think that more or less sums it up. The demos are pretty clear evidence he wasn't originally shooting to sound like 1984, but that was the result.

When the album was finished but before it was released, Costello embarked on his first ever solo jaunt of America. Before 'Goodbye Cruel World' even hit the shelves, he had already "discovered some of the mistakes [he] made" and "began to rescue [his] newest songs from the fog." Here's a quick listen from that tour:

"Worthless Thing" (Live)"

Not at all bad, but I think the best moment from the "Goodbye Cruel World" era, however, was the B-side "Turning the Town Red," which appeared in most countries as the flip to "I Wanna Be Loved" and is most remembered in the UK as the theme to Costello pal Alan Beasdale's television series "Scully." We listened to that one on these pages in 2015, but it can't hurt to hear it again. A nice memory from your youth for many of you, I'm sure.

"Turning the Town Red"

In 1995, Costello had the honor of curating the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank. By all accounts, it was a fine bill that included Jeff Buckley, the Fairfield Four, the Re-Birth Brass Band, the Jazz Passengers and many more. Costello himself appeared on stage several times during the nine days, including a set where his voice and Bill Frisell's guitar complemented each other to perfection. To me, this performance is the best save of a song from 'Goodbye Cruel World.' Beautiful. Even if this album is Costello's worst, as even the artist himself hinted, the songs of 'Goodbye Cruel World' were not entirely worthless things.

Elvis Costello and Bill Frisell - "Love Field" (Live)

9 comments:

George said...

I've just gone up to the music room to check that I have this album. I'm going to have to play it soon (as opposed to that Muse album). It looks in pristine condition so it doesn't seem to have been hauled out its sleeve too many times. It can't be that bad, surely?
Today's Worthless Thing track is rather good, Brian.

charity chic said...

Whereas Goodby Cruel World is not his best I don't have a total downer on it
Like George I may well dust it down to see what all the fuss is about!

Brian said...

I hope you boys make it past The Only Flame in Town, but I wouldn't put money on it.

Echorich said...

interesting how both EC and David Sylvian workd with both Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot around the same time. I guess this makes both guitarists - go to musicians in the eye of other musicians...

JC said...

Turning The Town Red should've been a single...it's exposure from 'Scully' alone would have helped sales not withstanding that it's a cracking tune

JTFL said...

The Frisell version of 'Love Field' kinda supports my take on GCW. It's not a bad album at all, in that there are a lot of great songs. They're just not the best versions or recordings of those songs. As opposed to, say, Mighty Like a Rose, which are good recordings of bad songs.

I don't have standing to use words like 'cracking' but I agree with JC about Turning the Town Red.

The Swede said...

These posts have been a fascinating dip into the music found in and around GCW Brian - today's 'Love Field' is particularly welcome as I don't own 'Deep Dead Blue'. You might have hit on a good subject for further discussion/posts too - 'In Defence of the Undervalued Album'. The perfect opportunity, for example, to remind everyone of my love for Echo & the Bunnymen's 'What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?'.

Echorich said...

I second that (e) motion Swede! And what a great album you hit on for an example!

Brian said...

Great idea, Swede. Wait, you love What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Just kidding.

I agree with JC. Turning the Ton Red should have been a single.

Echorich, Was wondering if you got the Sweetest Punch. Frisell takes on Painted From Memory. I actually don't have than one.