GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD by Elvis Costello and COSI FAN TUTII FRUTTI by Squeeze share much both in the way they were perceived when they were first released and the general feeling they give the listener.
Both are quite a bit darker than other albums in these particular artists’ oeuvre. Maybe “darker” is not the word maybe “murkier” is better. Both use odd sounds and more synthesizers than normal to achieve their desired effect.
GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD has often been derided as one of Costello’s worst records. I have never understood that as from a songwriting perspective it’s one of his strongest collections. The result of keeping an office, 9 to 5 hours, and writing at a desk I recall reading. Yes, the sound gets in the way from time to time but I would rank it my sixth or seventh favourite better than GET HAPPY and better than any albums he did after it with the exception of KING OF AMERICA.
The effect of the dense smoky sound at times is very close to 80’s radio synth fodder (“The Only Flame in Town”) other times older sounding and organic (“Joe Porterhouse”) At times pounding and harsh (“The Deportees Club”) other times icy and glacial (“Love Field”). The overall effect ends up being likenthat thick headed feeling, like a hangover the next morning, groggy from too much to drink.
Costello both produces songs that are in keeping with his normally inscrutable elliptical style of wordplay (“The Great Unknown”) but also tries to write quite conventional tales of the foibles of romance (“Room With No Number”, “Inch by Inch”). The end result is this is both a challenging record and a fun record. Costello balances the two quite well. I also want to give props to “Worthless Thing”, “Sour Milk Cow Blues”, and “Peace in Our Time” three great songs.
Squeeze might have had some influence on the development of the more deliberately poppy side of Costello’s songwriting. However, the despair among the melodies on GOODBYE (Costello was going through a divorce from his first wife at the time of the recording) may have had some influence back.
COSI FAN TUTTI FRUTTI was the first album Squeeze made after reuniting following the two principal members lone album under Difford and Tilbrook. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook’s one record without using the Squeeze name was filled to the brim with synthesizers so it wasn’t surprising when COSI was the same.
But what was and still is surprising is what they do with them. Whereas, the D&T solo labum was nothing but poppy near hits (although it did close out on the slow and eerie “The Apple Tree” about nuclear war perhaps a precursor to the songs on the Squeeze reunion album), COSI is an album of deep disorientation filled with bad drug experiences (“Big Ben”), family problems caused by drinking (“King George Street”), infidelity (“I Learnt How to Pray), domestic violence (“Last Time Forever”) even terrorism (“Hits of the Year”). Even a simple statement of the support of a loved one like “By Your Side” is turned into a desperate plea not by the lyrics but by Tilbrook’s normally beautiful McCartneysque vocals distorted so they sound like someone undergoing great emotional pain. Keith Wilkinson’s amplified bass also contributes to this mood.
Here the hangover effect is much more direct with alcohol figuring in at least half of the songs’ lyrics and even directly in a title (“I Won’t Ever Going Drinking Again”) interestingly the last song on the record as if the whole record was nothing but a bad drunk’s nightmare.
This is not to say the music here is not catchy in Squeeze’s hybrid Beatles way, it is very much and in among the sadness is pretty music but Squeeze once had a song entitled “When the Hangover Strikes” and here they come close to actually creating the musical sound equivalent of that. The synthesizers on COSI are neither warm nor welcoming they are either completely inhuman or sound like crying, the accompaniment to a very blue mood.