Indianapolis Star, March 9, 1994

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'Brutal Youth' shows that Elvis Costello
is still going strong


Marc D. Allan

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The journey from youth to middle age takes us "from rage to anesthesia," Elvis Costello offers on his new disc, Brutal Youth (Warner Bros. Records). Happily, Elvis has decided not to go gently. Slightly amused, a bit befuddled but still full of fire, the best and most versatile pop songwriter of the last 20 years has created 15 bittersweet mosaics of a life half over.

Regrets have piled up over the years. So have realizations that what looks so clear at 22 can become quite muddy as age 40 approaches. Costello uses this disc, which was released Tuesday, to bridge the periods between his own brutal youth and his current state. Hard to believe, but the angry, pigeon-toed guitarist who led music's new wave in the 1970s, has been around for nearly 20 years.

And what did Costello do to recapture the early days? He reassembled his old band, the Attractions. Keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas accompany him throughout; Bruce Thomas and old friend Nick Lowe share the duties on bass. Together, it's a festival of musical reminiscences. Longtime fans will find a middle guitar riff in "20% Amnesia" that's a direct descended of "You Belong to Me" on his second album. The drumming on "Pony Street" sounds much like that on the Imperial Bedroom.

"You Tripped at Every Step" has a Motown influence that it shares with his Punch the Clock album. "My Science Fiction Twin" ignites the big-beat bass line of "This Year's Girl."

But as always, it's the lyrics and stories that drive Costello's songs. Several examples here rival his best efforts, starting with "Pony Street," which muses about how kids today don't have the same disrespect he had. "If you need instruction in mindless destruction, I'll show you a thing or two," Costello raves.

"It's not the torment of the flames that finally see your flesh corrupted / It's the small humiliations that your memory piles up," he sings on "This is Hell," another of the record's little masterpieces. He takes that idea further in "You Tripped at Every Step," which starts out with a father telling his daughter to take off her mother's shoes and flashes back to unhappier times.

In "Rocking Horse Road," he sees his former lover living their dream suburban life with someone else. "Just About Glad" expresses both regrets and thanks for a fling that didn't happen; "Favourite Hour" mourns a moment that passed.

"All the passions of your youth are tranquillised and tamed," he sings on "This is Hell."

Maybe that happens to other people. But Costello is never one to be held down or classified. Over the years, he's made a country record and a classical record. This time, he's doing what he does best rock 'n' roll with passion.

Star ratings: 4 excellent 3 good. 2 fair, 1 poor

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Indianapolis Star, March 9, 1994


Marc D. Allan reviews Brutal Youth

Images

1994-03-09 Indianapolis Star page 09.jpg
Page scan.


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