Casa Grande Dispatch, March 18, 1994

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Brutal wait for new Elvis record

Josh Noel

Once it's all finished, Elvis Costello will just be remembered as "the other" Elvis.

He will be remembered fondly by his legion of devotees, yes, but he will still be Elvis No. 2, obscured somewhere behind the Presley guy.

But hey... who cares? Elvis P. is dead. Elvis C. isn't. And that's what matters right now.

After all, it's Elvis C. who has a new record. Brutal Youth, released earlier this month, is Mr. Costello's second offering in the last year. But it's his first "real" record in three years. And his first "real, real" record in eight years. Huh?

Well, it's like this... Elvis, since arriving on the music scene with My Aim is True in 1977, has worked extensively with his backing band, The Attractions. And it was great. He built a massive group of devout fans with his versatile style of energetic and angry pop music Which he expressed in a few different styles — punk, rock, country, blues and a few unmentionables.

But after a dozen or so records, the last being the brilliant Blood and Chocolate in 1986, Elvis and the Attractions parted ways.

Elvis went on to essentially lose his guitar — or maybe he just forgot how to play it — as other instruments filled the space — lots of horns, lots of keyboards and plenty of strings.

Elvis' first post-Attractions record, King of America, (1986) was atypically pop-folk-country which so greatly contrasted some of his earlier material that the split between Costello and his band became intensified. But it had some great stuff on it. After a few years came Spike, (1989) also brilliant and also a nice change. But what had happened to the old Elvis? Mighty Like A Rose (1991) was an inferior and slightly harder version of Spike and it too felt slightly non-Elvis-like. Everything was finally thrown out the window with The Juliet Letters, (1993) an entirely classical record with Elvis wailing above the cello and violin of the Brodsky Quartet. Another nice offering, but by The Juliet Letters it had been eight years since Elvis had been Elvis. Was he getting soft?

It turns out he wasn't. Elvis and the Attractions have struck back with a host of "classic" songs on Brutal Youth which closely enough resemble the early angst-filled days to raise a wry smile.

"Kinder Murder," "13 Steps Lead Down," (maybe the hit from this record... like "Veronica" was from Spike) and "Just About Glad" are exactly what Elvis needed to do after the last eight years.

It doesn't sound as if there was any extended thought on Brutal Youth or any extra tinkering with the arrangements — all you'll find are straightforward pop tunes twinged with that anger and passion that creates the difference between Elvis C. and Elvis P. Brutal Youth also features some somber moments — moments which have always seemed to be a Perfect venue for Elvis' spite. "This is Hell," "You Tripped at Every Step," and "Still Too Soon to Know" are slow and sound pretty but are quite scathing in reality.

The lone stinker — and this is a real stinker — is "Sulky Girl," (great title, weak tune) a song barely worthy of Sade. In fact, it sounds as if Sade wrote the darn thing. Remember Sade? OK... stop remembering.

A neat chorus nearly saves this one, but every time it threatens to get interesting, Elvis slips back into the Sade thing. Oh dear.

But one clunker can't drag this record down. What is important is that Elvis is back. No strings. No funky arrangements. No quartets. He's really back.

So have a party. Invite your friends. This Elvis is still alive.


Casa Grande Dispatch, March 18, 1994

Josh Noel reviews Brutal Youth.


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1994-03-18 Casa Grande Dispatch page 05.jpg
Page scan.


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