Thursday, June 22, 2017

Successful Save From 'Goodbye Cruel World'

'Goodbye Cruel World' is Elvis Costello's worst album. I know it. You know it. He knows it. If you have listened to any of the demos from that era, you may agree some of the songs might have stood a chance, but going to the Langer/Winstanley well a second time, coupled with 1984 being a dark time in Costello's life, proved to be too much to overcome. Costello would go back to the drawing board and attempt to improve some of those songs, rewriting verses and changing tempos with other artists in mind.

I humbly submit Costello was incredibly successful handing off "The Comedians" to Roy Orbison. The song, produced by T Bone Burnett for Orbison's posthumously released album 'Mystery Girl,' was heard by most for the first time when it was performed live with an all-star lineup in 1988 (taped in 1987) for the Cinemax television special "Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night." Orbison was backed at the Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles by Elvis Presley's TCB Band, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and many other greats, including Costello himself. If you have read Costello's memoir 'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,' then you know what a treat it was for him to be a part of that evening.

Costello's changes to "The Comedians" made the song sound and feel like a long lost Orbison track unearthed for this special night. The soulless clunky synth-driven original had been replaced by that patented Orbison storytelling and drama. Although Burnett did a fine job in the studio, personally, I think this live version was better than the one that appeared on 'Mystery Girl.' So that's the one we will listen to today. Don't feel like this is a slight on Burnett. He was the musical director for the live show too. Another reworked song from 'Goodbye Cruel World' next time.

Roy Orbison and Friends - "The Comedians" (Live, Sept. 30, 1987)


The Swede said...

You could very well have a point about this version of 'The Comedians' outstripping the studio recording. It was a real joy to see and hear The Big O back at the top of his game during this period, albeit, tragically, for such a short time.

JTFL said...

I guess I'm in the super-minority but I've always liked Goodbye Cruel World, and don't think for a minute it's EC's worst album. Maybe it was at the time of its release when put up against his incomparable body of work so far. Maybe it's his worst with the original tenure of the Atractions, which means nothing since everything from This Year's Model to Blood and Chocolate was stellar. But with songs like Comedians, Sour Milk Cow Blues, Deportees Club, the duets with Green and Daryl Hall etc. I never understood why this record was so critically slammed (by EC himself as well). I'd take it any day over, say, Spike or Mighty Like a Rose, when EC was still "a rocker". This is a great version by Roy O which I'd forgotten about.

Brian said...

JTFL, A line like "'Goodbye Cruel World' is Elvis Costello's worst album. You know it..." that's baiting to get a debate going, pure and simple. Who am I to tell someone they don't like an album? You may be very well be right about those early years on WB anyway. I would stand behind a statement like GCW is the worst album from the Columbia years, but I know a reader or two that would argue against that statement too. The last time we addressed the album on these pages was in 2015 when I posted the 12" of "I Wanna Be Loved" as part of my series When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play. At that time, Echorich paid homage to Deportees Club, and the Swede argued the album was aging better than Punch the Clock. Yes, you may be in the minority, but you are not alone.

Swede, With this show, the comeback album and the Traveling Wilburys, it certainly was nice to see Orbison get his due. Too bad he wasn't around to see his album go top 5 here in America so many years after the glory days. A Black and White Night gets played a lot over here on our Public Broadcasting stations at pledge time because the Orbison family gave it to them after Roy's death. A nice gesture, indeed.

JTFL said...

Fair enough, Brian. I'm rejecting out of hand the idea that anything EC did with the Attractions could stand as his worst recording. With that premise, what would you say is his actual worst recording? So as not to get too granular, let's exclude soundtrack stuff and collabs like 'For the Stars' and the 'The Juliet Letters'. I'm going with North, although I hate everything on 'Mighty Like a Rose' except for Other Side of Summer, which is a nice tune. I especially despise EC's angry go at my hero Bruce Thomas on How to Be Dumb. You can hear him spitting at the mic.

Brian said...

i think every Costello album has at least some redeeming quality, but the ones I dislike the most are the same ones you mention. From beginning to end, I would probably go with Mighty Like a Rose. The Other Side of Summer is great because it sounds like an Attractions song, I'll freely admit to liking Sir Paul (let the jeers begin!), but I enjoy the demos of their two songs from that album more than the finished products. Goodbye Cruel World would follow close behind, but there are a couple of songs I on there I do like. I'll be mentioning those two posts from now. I excluded North from this conversation, but I haven't listened to it since the week it came out. Not a ringing endorsement. A bunch of us gave our top Costello albums on these pages a couple of years back. This is as good a time as any to name the ones on the other end of the spectrum.

Brian said...

JTFL, Hope you could follow that last comment. Typed badly on phone. Here is a link to a post and comments that turned into a favorite Costello albums thread. This was a little before your time.

JTFL said...

Ha! that I can do. Top 5:

Armed Forces
Imperial Bedroom
(tie) This Year's Model/My Aim Is True
Get Happy!!

Sometime in a different order but that's what I'm going with today. And, for the record, I'm an unabashed classic rock fan and have all kinds of love for the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks etc.

Echorich said...

Brian - how very funny - as I read this post I immediately thought...yeah certainly the most diappointing Costello album along with Almost Blue. But some things obviously don't change because my next thought was that I really do rate Deportees Club an awful lot.

My Top five from EC still stand :
1. Get Happy!
2. Armed Forces
3. Blood & Chocolate
4. Taking Liberties
5. Painted From Memory.

In fact Painted From Memory is one of the best albums of the 1990s IMO....

George said...

I've never heard this Roy Orbison cover. This is brilliant. It is, I think, a sort of amalgam of Running Scared and It's Over, which surely no-one could dislike

MisterPrime said...

Ha, Brian! I can't believe that you remembered the piece I wrote about the Raw Herbs and that I'd managed to completely forget it at some point during the last three years (and I'm not sure which of us comes out of that sentence looking worse...!) Also, apologies for not updating you re: my adventures with the Wedding Present. Two very good gigs, the Rock City date, surprisingly, edging it for me due, I think, to a combination of strong lighting and a very appreciative crowd. They balanced the 'George Best' stuff out nicely with a first-half of set that leaned heavily on newer material and 'deep cuts': bookended by a couple of those post-rocky instrumental numbers and featuring a positively motorik take on 'Click Click' and nothing older than 'Crawl' (which is 'Seamonsters'-era but I believe featured on the '3 Songs' EP if I'm not very much mistaken...) Oh, and Mr. Gedge himself sold me a t-shirt in Nottingham! There's a dodgy photo of Leicester at if you're in any way interested. Nothing to say about Costello though, sorry! Cheers, MisterPrime

JTFL said...

Echorich, I'm surprised that Painted From Memory is listed along with those 4 classics. In fact, I would have included PFM on my least favorite list except I saw EC perform the album with Bacharach on piano and full orchestra at the Universal when it came out. I must admit it was a great, not good, but GREAT show. Also the last time I listened to any of the songs on that album.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Echorich for pointing me over here as I am currently in the throes of an unexpected Costello jag of listening to "The Delivery Man" on repeat. It's now my favorite EC album post-"Blood + Chocolate." As bad as "Goodbye Cruel World" is, it's got nothing on "Mighty Like A Rose" which my friend chasinvictoria gave me a copy of the hardbound DLX CD and I still sold it off! Perhaps even that dead-from-the-neck-up album was far better than the oppressively tuneless and meandering "North," my personal pick for Worst Elvis Costello album [though I wonder if "Il Sogno" might even be worse].

Brian said...

PPM, Some terrific candidates for worst album right there. From reading your blog, I feel like I know chasinvictoria very well. Like a bad habit, I have bought every Costello album upon release since Punch the Clock (age 13). In other words, I own many candidates. Albums like For the Stars, North and Il Sogno may as well never have been opened. I'm sure the dust is thick on the top of those jewel cases. In the post Columbia years, there are a few albums that get frequent play. The Delivery Man is certainly one of them. For a myriad of reasons too lengthy to get into here, I really took to Brutal Youth as well. Bottom line... You will get no debate here when it comes to your pick. North it is.

Echorich, I remembered your soft spot for Deportees Club, but I forgot about how much you liked Painted From Memory. I haven't listened to that one in years. In your honor, I'll give it a spin this weekend. Always liked God Give Me Strength. Very powerful. Your other four are very high on my list as well, and we share the same No. 1.

JTFL, Impossible to argue with you on your top 5. As you have probably surmised by now, not everyone around here shares your affinity for the bands you mentioned. I became obsessed with music at age 9 when I found my mother's albums... Kinks, Beach Boys, Beatles, Monkees, etc. You might enjoy this...

George, I hope things are coolong off a bit for you in Portugal. If you can pick up a cheap copy of Black and White Night, I think you would really enjoy it. The all-star band plays just about all of the hits.

MisterPrime, Not many have proclaimed their love for the Raw Herbs. Kind of stuck out in my mind. One of these days we will get some indie label to release a stellar comp. Gotta respect Gedge still working the merch stall. Always pleased to hear about your adventures at the shows. Don't be shy about being the Nottingham correspondent again whenever you feel up to it. Your musings are always welcome.

Smile of the day:
"I'm not sure which of us comes out of that sentence looking worse...!"

Echorich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Echorich said...

Brian,JTFL, I took the opportunity to throw Painted From Memory on my iPhone last night and also listened to it start to finish twice last night. It was a welcome diversion at work early this morning while I was prep'ing claims filed for a slew of catastrophic hail claims that destroyed cars and homes from Wyoming to Texas and back up as far north as Wisconsin in the past 6 weeks or so. The triple threat of Toledo, I Still Have That Other Girl and This House Is Empty Now is just devastatingly good. Sure, it may not be everybody's cuppa, but EC proved to me all the way back on Get Happy! that there is beauty in the emotional pop of the 60's - be it ballad, r&b or angry young man rock and roll - and Painted From Memory takes me back to some of the same pleasures from that album.

Rol said...

Very much enjoyed all these posts on Goodbye Cruel World, and the debate that has ensued. I don't want to think too hard about my least favourite Costello album, but anything after North becomes difficult for me. I think GCW has it's moments, but when you put it up against the records that preceded it (and followed it: I'm sorry, but I love Mighty Like A Rose), it can't compare.

You're bang on target about Orbison's version of The Comedians though: it's up there with the heartbreaking best of his heyday.