• Record Label: Island
  • Release Date: Apr 23, 2002

Generally favorable reviews - based on 25 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 25
  2. Negative: 0 out of 25
  1. Bristling with an electric current that seemingly short-circuited years ago, ''When I Was Cruel'' is the best work Costello has produced since ''Blood & Chocolate'' back in the mid-'80s.
  2. An immediately engrossing and challenging collection of moody, evocative songs-- an entire album of "I Want You" and "Watching the Detectives" for those so inclined.
  3. A shoo-in as one of this year's "best of's."
  4. The Costello formula takes over: minimalist but experimental instrumentation, eternally durable vocals, and literate punk-wave bittersweetening.
  5. Elvis Costello is back, bashing and clanging away at what he does best: delivering out vitriolic songs of curdled romance and sodden, soiled dreams.
  6. Mojo
    When I Was Cruel is bursting with bile and romance, tricky lyrics and tantalising tunes, and finds him practically trampolining with the thrill of messing about with sounds. [May 2002, p.108]
  7. Costello proves that all the balladry hasn't dulled his ability to rock.
  8. It’s a confectionary delight, from start to finish: sometimes intelligent, sometimes emotional, always likeable.
  9. Costello has never experimented so freely on an album in his entire career.
  10. An album of taut, bilious rock that -- propelled, not coincidentally, by original Attractions members Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas -- has all the teetering-on-unhinged feel of Costello's very best work.
  11. When I Was Cruel is a collection of tough tunes and textures that recalls -- but doesn't recycle -- the records that endeared him to his earliest admirers.
  12. 80
    The songs are brilliantly Costello-esque, fairly varied, and don't sound at all dated.
  13. Ultimately, I suspect Costello non-devotees will find that too much effort is required to get into these songs and there may not be sufficient emotional payoff to justify the investment.
  14. Despite the presence of a few misses, When I Was Cruel will be well worth the purchase for anyone still trying to work their way through All This Useless Beauty. It's a straightforward, catchy, and of course smart record from the meanest man in the British Isles.
  15. Just a little sensible pruning then and 'When I Was Cruel' would be a triumphant return to rocking form for Mr Costello.
  16. Anyone expecting When I Was Cruel to be This Year's Model may be disappointed, but Elvis Costello has worn so many hats over the years that it would have been a misstep for him to try to go back.
  17. Spin
    The lyrics chew as much as they bite, and the music -- ranging from twangy jazzisms to raucous blues rock -- lets Costello honor his roots while still showing off what he picked up at the conservatory. [May 2002, p.118]
  18. Too often, Costello strains to squeeze more musical and lyrical notions into his simple pop songs than they can hold, leaving listeners with a scattershot collection instead of a fleshed-out statement, and a merely good album instead of a great one.
  19. Outside of the Bacharach album, it's his best in a long time. But in order to know that, you will have to have dilligently listened to everything from Spike on -- and if you got off the bus around then, it's harder than ever to get back on.
  20. Alternative Press
    Costello clutters many fine compositions with kitchen-sink arrangements and cacophonous production that bring into focus how sorely missed estranged Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas is throughout. [Jun 2002, p.75]
  21. Elvis makes you suffer for the good stuff with leaden conceits, overwrought hysterics, a useless reprise. And then he makes it all up to yoo-oo-oou.
  22. 60
    If the performances here reclaimed the sputtering, spastic fury of Elvis and the Attractions in their prime, it might not matter that Costello came to play without indelible melodies and jaw-dropping lyrics, but they really don't and he largely did.
  23. Uncut
    With a bit of self-pruning, a bit MORE risk and space in the production, he might have TRULY self-reinvented. [May 2002, p.90]
  24. There isn't anything quite as special as, say, Veronica but the veins at Costello's temples are throbbing again.
  25. It's no classic, but there are reassuringly unhealthy signs of life.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 16 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 15 out of 16
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 16
  3. Negative: 1 out of 16
  1. JabezT.
    Sep 22, 2007
    An excellent album by one of the true masters of modern music. Because he is so prolific, Elvis has released a lot of records that are An excellent album by one of the true masters of modern music. Because he is so prolific, Elvis has released a lot of records that are rehashes or even steps backwards. Not this one. It represents another amazing stage in the career of a major artist. Full Review »
  2. Rita
    Mar 21, 2005
    a masterpiece, no doubt one of the best albums ever, just brilliant, 100 out of 10
  3. DonH
    Apr 25, 2003
    good really good