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Old 02-16-2009, 01:29 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: UK
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Brutal Youth
1994, Warner Bros Records, Church Studios and Olympic Studios (London)

Having seen his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet through to its fitting end, Costello decided it was high time to get back into more familiar territory with his new album. From here, what started as a very rootsy and laid back session in Church Studios with Attractions drummer Pete Thomas (the only Attraction he'd not completely alienated himself from) and his son Matt MacManus on bass, eventually evolved into a full-scale reunion with the familiar faces from the past. First, upon discovering a piano part he needed to complete a song (20% Amnesia) was beyond his own capabilities, Costello called on the services of Steve Nieve again. After that, his old pal and producer Nick Lowe was summoned to the studio again for the first time since 1986, though only as a bassist this time 'round (Kevin Killen was in the producer's chair). Elvis Costello and the three-quarters-reunited Attractions then moved to Olympic Studios to cut the rest of the album, where it was soon discovered that they needed a more OTT kind of bassist than Nick Lowe for a few of the deemed-incomplete songs. This was where Costello reluctantly called upon the services of his old adversary Bruce Thomas.

Despite the white-hot tensions behind the album, as a record in itself Brutal Youth is a return to the simpler, new wave-afflicted sound of Costello's earliest recordings. The Attractions being back in full force help this notion along as well, and it's a welcome reunion too. Particularly in the record's faster moments it's clear that the Attractions are well and truly back, with some typically fiery performances to be found. As an album, it is a massive step back from the wildly adventurous experimentation of Spike, Mighty Like a Rose and the Juliet Letters.

1. Pony St.
The album kicks off with the kind of aplomb typical of an Attractions record, as Steve Nieve's jazzy piano-line and Nick Lowe's bass kick a decent-enough, simplistic rocker into life. Particularly in the ferocity of Pete Thomas' drumming it's clear to see that the Attractions are indeed back. The song isn't so spectacular itself to be honest, but it works well enough. 6/10

2. Kinder Murder
One of the earliest songs to be recorded this. Kinder Murder is a gritty, dirty rocker which was recorded during the Church sessions with Pete Thomas (before any of the other Attractions were called into the studio - Costello fills out the bass duties here himself). It's red-raw stuff, and a standout besides the more finely-tuned majority of the album, and a very fine song on top of all that. 8/10

3. 13 Steps Lead Down
As one of the songs Bruce Thomas was asked to play on, this is one of the slightly more ambitious and complex tunes on the album, boasting very sharp performances from the Attractions and the kind of tempo change which is the common denominator of Costello's finest songs. 9/10

4. This Is Hell
And the versatility of that very same band is shown off nicely on this slower ballad. Again, it's a fine display of the Attractions' abilities as a backing band and Costello's as a songwriter and lyricist (I've always thought 'the failed Don Juan in the big bow-tie is very sorry that he spoke, for he's mislaid his punchline more than hlafway through a very tasteless joke' is kinda cute). 7/10

5. Clown Strike
Probably the only real flaw with this album though is the fact that Kevin Killen's production methods make the record sound a little muted in places, whereas Nick Lowe would've definitely brought out the best of the performances as he'd done so brilliantly in the past. In places like this, where the songwriting isn't quite strong enough to get past that notion, this becomes a whole lot more obvious. A plodding, mid-tempo tune, and not really such a great one if truth be told. 4/10

6. You Tripped At Every Step
Here we have the flip-side of that particular coin though. Gently nosing along with Costello's acoustic strumming brought to the front of the mix, the man's clearly on top form when it comes to lyric-penning, opening the song as he does with this wonderful verse;

'Take your tiny feet out of your mother's shoes
Or there is going to be a terrible scene
It's not just the lipstick drawn on crooked
When they find out how wicked we are
How wicked we have been
How I've been tempted'

There's nothing particularly dynamic or earth-shattering about the song musically, but the lyrical wordplay and the tempo change towards the climax really do take this song to another level. 9/10

7. Still Too Soon To Know
Definitely one of the very best songs on the album. This heartfelt, emotional, piano-led ballad (with added soulful spices) is certainly one of the most tender and up-front moment on the record, the gentle and somewhat distant-sounding piano and a very fine vocal performance really elevating this one. 10/10

8. 20% Amnesia
It's a polar opposite to the next track as well. Being the other song cut during the Church sessions, it's another raw and noisy barrage of finely-structured noise, and a very good song at that. 8/10

9. Sulky Girl
A sister-song to 13 Steps Lead Down here, in that it starts as a quiet, uninstrusive number, speeds up a little with each chorus and turns into a completely new song with its bridges. Another indicator of Costello's talent as a songwriter (give or take the inferior, single mix in the video below). You can probably guess what the lyrics concern, but here's a snippet for you anyway;

'Sulky girl, I saw you practicing your blackmail faces
Suddenly you're talking like a duchess but you're still a waitress
I saw through your pretence
But in my defence
There are a few events
I think we'll spare the censor
Sulky girl'

Yep, you saw it. Despite all his recent genre-hopping in the recent years, he was still the mean old bastard he always was! 10/10

10. London's Brilliant Parade
Another slower tune in keeping with selections like This Is Hell and You Tripped With Every Step, which lacks the emotional resonance of Still Too Soon To Know but gets by on combo of terrific lyrics and vocals, which suits the yarn-spinning qualities of the said lyrics very well indeed. 8/10

11. My Science Fiction Twin
Getting by as it does on a rolling bassline and the occasional, skewiff guitar figure this here's another one of the more up-tempo moments on display. I've probably used this phrase a lot so far, but the change in tempo for each bridge is just genius and, if the verses themselves didn't struggle to keep my attention a teeny bit, this'd be another well-earned ten. 9/10

12. Rocking Horse Road
And to follow it up is another of the not so bad yet not so great moments. Another mid-tempo tune which is pretty much held back by Kevin Killen's production methods, and a bit of a let-down really. 5/10

13. Just About Glad
Which, in turn, is followed up by this chirpy, upbeat tune, which bears more than a little resemblance to Costello's earliest work. Nothing truly extraordinary, but a bit more like it. 6/10

14. All the Rage
And the album as a unit builds in terms of quality from there towards its climax. Another more up-tempo tune, with an infectious chorus and another firm nod in the direction of This Year's Model and Armed Forces, as the album buils towards its soft and gentle climax... 8/10

15. Favourite Hour
...which is itself another hot contender for the finest song to close an Elvis Costello album. Merely the man himself playing the piano to accompany his voice, bringing Brutal Youth to its gentle end as it sort of floats away into the distance.

'Put out my eyes so I may never see
Waving branches as they're waving goodbye
Their vile perfume brings to my mouth a bitter taste
The murmuring brooks had best speak up, it's a terrible waste'

The Outtakes.
Life Shrinks: The only outtake that's worth looking out for, and one which could easily have made the album in place of one of its weaker moments.

Idiophone, Abandon Word, Poisoned Letter and a Drunken Man's Praise Of Sobriety: All these songs were cut very early in the Church sessions, and feature Costello's son Matt on bass and Pete Thomas on drums. Unfortunately they're all a bit messy, unfinished, and not really any good.

So, summing up then...
As an artistic step backwards into more familiar territory, Brutal Youth does indeed lack the sense of adventure and experimentation which accompanied the three albums which came before it. It does though find Costello writing a bunch of decent new wave/rock songs, and despite the weakness of the production, is still a fairly good album and a welcome reunion for the Attractions. Overlooked as this album may be, this is a great place to start if you're looking to get into the guy.

Last edited by Bulldog; 02-17-2009 at 02:03 PM.
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