Right around the time I was graduating from high school, Elvis Costello had released a new single. The song ‘I Wanna Be Loved’ was a heartfelt ballad that highlighted his occasional soulfulness. I have to admit to not being a big fan, but did appreciate the quirkiness of songs like ‘Watching the Detectives’ and ‘Accidents Will Happen’. For a minute it sounded as if Costello had gone R&B on his 9th album.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions had undergone a pop makeover when Goodbye Cruel World came out in 1984. Up to that point it was possible to hear their music on college and on the occasion forward thinking classic rock station.
Punch the Clock was when the band’s big pop makeover begun. From that album came the excellent ‘Everyday I Write the Book’, Costello’s first American top 40 song. As the second album produced by the English hit maker team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Goodbye Cruel World continued the glossy polished sound of Punch the Clock.
Unfortunately Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World are not considered Costello’s best work, but they did have their moments of beauty. Punch the Clock introduced the backing vocals of Afrodiziak, in a trend of the time where British acts were using black backup singers to add a soulful dimension to their music. Every one from Gang of Four to Gary Numan
fell victim used this trend.
On Good Bye Cruel World, Afrodiziak was nowhere to be found. In her place future pop heavyweights like Green Gartside of Scritti Politti and established starts like Daryl Hall performed in some capacity on the two hit singles from the album: ‘I Wanna be Loved’ and ‘The Only Flame in Town’.
Costello was having serious issues in his personal life, the least of which was a nasty divorce. Instead of channeling that grief for the kind of emotional songs he was known for, the heavy production drowned out much of what made Costello and his backing band the Attractions so interesting in the past.
Despite that obstacle the single ‘I Wanna Be Loved’ , a remake of an old Teacher’s Edition song has turned out to be one of my favorites from Elvis Costello. Costello’s soulful treatment makes the most of the slick production and music video as a promotional tool. The other great single ‘The Only Flame in Town’ uses Daryl Halls voice to similar effect (you can’t go wrong with Hall’s voice).
The rest of the album however was not so memorable. Oddly but not surprisingly in what was being hailed as a bad period for Elvis Costello critically, turned out to be his most successful commercially. The pop trinity of ‘Every Day I Write the Book’ from Punch the Clock and the two aforementioned singles from Cruel World remain my favorites from a vast catalog that will continue to be playlist material for college and forward leaning classic rock stations.