While it may not rival the hype circus around the alleged Beatles reunion, the arrival this week of Elvis Costello's latest album, Brutal Youth, will be for many the musical happening of the year. After three albums with other groups, Costello has buried the hatchet with his acclaimed original band, the Attractions, recording with them for the first time in eight years. Just don't call it a reunion. "It isn't, 'cause it didn't come about as some big decision to get back together. I hate the idea of those Who-type reunions," grouses Costello, 38.
Once they were face-to-face, the foursome — Costello, drummer Pete Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve, and bassist Bruce Thomas — affected a distinctly unsentimental demeanor. "It wasn't terribly dramatic in that thirtysomething way — you know, 'I love you, guy,' or any of that s---," says Costello. "We had a couple of years to think about it and realized we were squabbling about nothing. We were probably more of a band than I — most especially I — would admit."
The estrangement began after 1984's underachieving Goodbye Cruel World, when Costello expressed a desire to record and tour with other musicians. Waxing contrite, Costello recalls, "To be honest, I didn't handle the situation with much grace. I just sort of announced that I was going, and it wasn't negotiable. That must have been pretty hurtful after what we'd put in. I guess I got a little arrogant, you know, as I got more confident."
Brutal Youth provides bonus reasons to rejoice. "It's not chamber music," assures Costello, who knows The Juliet Letters, last year's classical foray with the Brodsky Quartet, was for many longtime devotees the last straw. Instead he is on familiar pop ground, championing the dysfunctional and disreputable with peevish glee. "Obviously, if you want hit records, you should write a lot of idealized love songs," says Costello. "There's always somebody falling in love who wants to believe it will last forever. But plenty of people are doing that, and even more doing it badly. There are also plenty of songs about being misunderstood at 17 — but not that many about feeling adrift when you're older." A veritable Raffi for disaffected rock fans.