Monday, 1 October 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Brutal Youth (1994)

Rocking Horse Road, or something quite like it....


Released March 1994

Recorded in Hollywood, California

This was the first album Elvis Costello had recorded with The Attractions since "Blood And Chocolate" in 1986. It has received a certain amount of criticism for the harshness in its sound quality. To an extent, I understand these views, but for me, the quality of the songs outweigh those drawbacks. There is some great stuff on here. The Attractions are in enthusiastic rude health. Nick Lowe is on bass, replacing the enigmatic Bruce Thomas on some tracks, but drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard wizard Steve Niece are still there for all of the album.


1. Pony Street
2. Kinder Murder
3. 13 Steps Lead Down
4. This Is Hell
5. Clown Strike
6. You Tripped At Every Step
7. Still Too Soon To Know
8. 20% Amnesia
9. Sulky Girl
10. London's Brilliant Parade
11. My Science Fiction Twin
12. Rocking Horse Road
13. Just About Glad
14. All The Rage
15. Favourite Hour                                    

The album starts with bang - the frenetic, clunking piano, rumbling bass and pounding drums back Costello's vitriolic vocals on "Pony Street" providing a great opener. "Kinder Murder" continues the quality with another copper-bottomed Attractions classic. They really are back on "form", to use the old cliché. Costello's lyrics, popularly described as being "acerbic", are indeed just that. A razor sharp acoustic guitar strums aggressively into the staccato drums of "13 Steps Lead Down". So far, this album is burning with a fire absent from Costello's work for for a couple of years. He is an unstoppable force of nature on this album.

"This Is Hell" slows down the frantic pace, but it is one of those marvellous, wordy, evocative Costello slow but passionate and dramatic numbers. "Clown Strike" is a jaunty, slightly upbeat jazzy song and "You Tripped At Every Step" is another typical Costello slow but classically graceful song. "Still Too Soon To Know" is a torch-song type of mournful ballad. Now it is time to up the tempo again and the madcap "20% Amnesia" does just that, with Costello spitting out the lyrics with a vengeance. Nobody does this sort of thing better. Similarly, the mysterious rhythmic groove of "Sulky Girl", with its echoes of "Shabby Doll" off "Imperial Bedroom".

Two favourites of mine are the wonderful, atmospheric and nostalgic "London's Brilliant Parade" with its London landmark name-checks, and the powerful, grinding "Rocking Horse Road". There are lots of typical Attractions keyboard breaks in this song.  "My Science Fiction Twin" is a breakneck echo of the late seventies too, with Nieve's keyboards swirling all over the place. "Just About Glad" is a throwback to the soulful rock of "Get Happy!". "All The Rage" has a fifties-style intro before it morphs into a folky lament from a yearning Costello. "Favourite Hour" ends this excellent album in a sombre, reflective slow mood. A classic Costello slow heartbreaker.

The criticisms of this album from some are somewhat unfair. I have always been very fond of it. It is up there as one of his most consistently impressive albums.


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