Hackettstown Star-Gazette, March 17, 1994

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Hackettstown Star-Gazette

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The unconventional Elvis Costello
continues to evolve in new release


Bill Nutt

Last year Elvis Costello recorded one of the most daring experiments of his checkered career: The Juliet Letters, a song cycle for voice and string quartet. In a true spirit of perversity, he has followed that neo-classical work with an unqualified rock 'n' roll album recorded with his old backing band, the Attractions. Costello's first producer, Nick Lowe, also shows up, though his contribution is limited to bass guitar on several cuts.

Brutal Youth is not a step backward for Costello, though. His lyrics about frustrated love and betrayal — pun-filled and convoluted even at the beginning of his career — have grown increasingly dense and knotty. The songs on such recent albums as Spike and Mighty Like a Rose featured equally complex arrangements, and the results were sometimes brilliant but often obscure.

With the return of the Attractions (absent since Costello's 1986 album Blood and Chocolate), the songs have a stronger musical anchor. Pete and Bruce Thomas remain a supple, versatile rhythm section. It's a particular pleasure to hear the swirling organ sounds of Steve Nieve supporting Costello's vitriolic vocals again (although co-producer Mitchell Froom doesn't give the keyboards the prominence than Lowe did).

Costello has also grown into a more confident vocalist since the days of This Year's Model and Armed Forces, when he was able to sell his songs on attitude alone. He is now able to give slower songs such as "This Is Hell" the same conviction as rockers like "Pony St." and "Sulky Girl." Some cuts, including "Just About Glad" and "13 Steps Lead Down," indicate that Costello might have picked up some pointers on musical hooks from his recent collaborations with Paul McCartney. It's doubtful that Brutal Youth is a sign of a new direction for Costello, but this album is a good occasion for his old fans to rediscover this unconventionally inventive musician.

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The Star-Gazette, March 17, 1994


Bill Nutt reviews Brutal Youth.

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1994-03-17 Hackettstown Star-Gazette page 18 clipping 01.jpg
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1994-03-17 Hackettstown Star-Gazette page 18.jpg
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