Review of Brutal Youth
Age (Green Guide), 1994-04-14
- John Mangan

Elvis Costello
Warners 9362 4553 52

Eventually Elvis Costello figured out why his last album did so poorly - he had made the mistake of putting a photo of himself sporting a straggly beard on the cover. So for Brutal Youth no beards. Not even stubble, as a clean-shaven Costello graces the album artwork, interspersing up-to-date photos with snaps taken out of the family album that show the artist as a young man in 1958 resplendent in cowboy suit, and later, in 1963, sporting bathers and sunnies.

The title and artwork suggest a trip down memory lane; Costello has opted for nostalgia on the recording side as well, stripping back the production to capture some of the energy of his earlier recordings.

Producer Mitchell Froom, who helped Costello out on Mighty Like A Rose, has eliminated fancy tricks like string orchestras and complex backing vocals, while the singer has reunited with his old band the Attractions, swapping bass duties between Bruce Thomas and the charismatic Nick Lowe.

The result is minimalist rather than crude, with Costello's vibrato having greatest effect on the slower numbers like Sulky Girl, Rocking Horse Road and the appealing All The Rage. It's in the more up-tempo songs like 20 Per Cent Amnesia and My Science Fiction Twin though that Costello's pensive, quirky style shines brightest on an album likely to win him some new friends.