It looked promising: The Attractions returning as Elvis Costello's backup group for the first time since 1986's Blood & Chocolate, longtime crony Nick Lowe's return to the fold; Costello's return to rock, after last year's The Juliet Letters with the Brodsky Quartet.
All the signs indicated that Brutal Youth would be the type of album Costello used to spit out on a yearly basis: nasty-tempered, three-minute songs with caustic wordplay and music that ranged from elegiac to furious.
And in a way, it is. But it just doesn't measure up. And it's hard to say why.
The biggest problem seems to be Costello's lack of chemistry with his old mates, who don't even get cover credit. Drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Bruce Thomas (who alternates with Lowe) don't propel the music like they did in Costello's glory days.
Keyboardist Steve Nieve, an integral force in Costello's early work, occasionally breaks through, although not as much as you might expect on an album co-produced by another keyboardist, Mitchell Froom.
Only on "Clown Strike" does the group find its old groove, and it's instructive that Lowe plays on that song in place of Bruce Thomas. And why is Froom producing when Lowe, who produced Costello's best work, is hanging around?
An occasional Brutal Youth song, especially "You Tripped at Every Step" or "13 Steps Lead Down," will stick in your mind, but most are difficult to recall after the disc is over.
And the best lyric, from "This Is Hell" — "They play my favorite tune again and again / but it's by Julie Andrews, not by John Coltrane" — doesn't quite have the tone of "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused" or "There's no such thing as an original sin" or "When the things in my head start hurting my mind," all from songs on Costello's first two albums.
The CD age just hasn't been very good to Costello. Always a verbose chap, he is able to prattle on longer than he used to on vinyl. For some reason, that's changed him from Buddy Holly with a very bad attitude to Paul McCartney with a bad attitude.
That's a good way of wearing out your welcome.