Most fans will be glad to hear Elvis Costello has hearkened back to his roots in his latest release, Brutal Youth. Rediscovering the punk-rock style that made him famous, Costello offers fresh, new material that would have been right at home in his classic string of late '70s and early '80s albums.
During the last several years, Costello toyed with more sophisticated forms of music, abandoning his bare, electric sound for pomp and orchestration.
But his last major release, The Juliet Letters, recorded with the Brodsky Quartet, showed Costello straying as far from his usual sound as most listeners would allow. It was obvious that Costello needed to move back to the punk sounds that made his mark.
With this experimental eclecticism out of his system, Costello is finally back to making the kind of music he does best: intelligent rock 'n' roll.
Catchy, raw, even beautiful, Brutal Youth is quintessential Elvis Costello. There are no violins, no Paul McCartney and songs of "Flowers in the Dirt." It is just Costello with his trusty guitar and his old band, the Attractions, which split up in 1985.
The return of his backup band heralds the return of Costello's long-missed style. Those musicians slip back into their old sound as if they had never parted and act as a perfect showcase for Costello's excellent songwriting.
Nearly every track is a potential single, fraught with undisguised cynicism and lofty vocabulary.
Titles like "Kinder Murder" and "Clown Strike" illustrate the humor behind his ostensibly bitter view of the world.
"This Is Hell" starts off with a child's tinkling music box as Costello sings angelically, "This is hell, I am sorry to tell you / But you'll get used to it."
Clever, sarcastic, even poetic, Costello's lyrics reveal a frankness and intelligence that is rare among most popular musicians. Like all of Costello's albums, Brutal Youth never lapses into maudlin sentimentality or brainless cliches. It retains its originality even as it slides back into typical Costello style.
Musically, Costello is in top form. His voice has not lost any of the gruff but delicate vibrato that graced tracks like "Alison" almost two decades ago. Indeed he still sings with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.
As usual, his guitar-playing remains hidden in the woodwork, allowing the listener to focus on his thoughtful lyrics.
The tracks in Brutal Youth range from the modestly beautiful "Favorite Hour" to the loud, jarring "20% Amnesia" and the fast, danceable "Sulky Girl." The only prevailing mood is Costello's typical sarcasm. But without that, the album simply would not have been Elvis Costello's,