Elvis Costello / Elvis Costello & the Imposters

Cruel Smile

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Perhaps Elvis Costello is so accustomed to preparing a disc of rare material as a supplement to his albums, he couldn't resist assembling a collection of arcania for his 2002 album When I Was Cruel with a second disc a mere six months after its release, so it could stand alongside the exhaustive Rhino reissues of his catalog. Perhaps he and Island/Universal were finding the quickest way to the end of his contract. Perhaps he actually likes the thing. No matter the reason, there's no excusing Cruel Smile, an ungainly mess of radio performances, remixes, live tracks, outtakes, covers, and sundry B-sides. Sure, this is the kind of thing that would be a boon to hardcore fans...if it were any good, whatsoever. Instead, it's an appalling display of hubris, capturing Costello fooling around in the studio with remixes, grandstanding on stage, tossing off covers, throwing out a couple of unreleased songs, some of which were released as B-sides or overseas singles. It's standard stuff, the kind of thing that fanatics willingly sacrifice meals to hear, to own, but there are no hidden gems here, nothing worth hearing. Instead, it sounds like a parody of the bonus discs on the Expanded Editions that are all the rage in the reissue market in the early years of the 21st century, but it's no joke; it's intended seriously. And perhaps for some completists, just getting this material at a reasonable price is worthwhile. Then again, in a year where Costello product flooded the market, it's much easier to get irritated at its very existence and question whether you really do need a shelf full of Costello material you'll never listen to, particularly if it's as dull and pretentious as this.

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