1994's Brutal Youth saw the killer combo of Elvis, Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Bruce Thomas return with a bang on the head. The foursome's first Nineties effort was all fists and fury, deftly dealt by the agile foursome which created some of the best albums of the previous two decades. All This Useless Beauty, in contrast, is, a graceful dance through the china shop, and the songs weave expertly around the delicate emotions and fragile egos which fill this particular musical parlour, knocking off the odd's vase just for the hell of it.
The album starts off with the distant, longing "The Other End Of The Telescope," written by Costello and' Aimee Mann, then stays low key for "Little Atoms" and "All This Useless Beauty," Costello examining the cracked veneer of human frailty and fallibility. "Complicated Shadows" hangs on a reined in rock riff, while "Distorted Angel" floats on a dark, rain drenched bass line and a baby doll keyboard signature. "Shallow Grave," co written with Paul McCartney, and "Starting To Come To Me" are typical Attractions style country rock wig outs, but "You Bowed Down" is a vintage Elvis jangle which wouldn't sound amiss on Armed Forces. Costello's other collaborators The Brodsky Quartet join him for the closer, "I Want To Vanish," a last letter from the emotional wilderness.
As usual, Costello is in biting form, writing lyrics which cut to the bone and wrap up the ironies of life in a shroud of phrase. All This Useless Beauty is probably The Attractions' most varied album yet, and not all the styles pass the litmus test, but at least the chemistry is still there.