I’ll confess: I still think of Brutal Youth as one of Elvis Costello‘s “recent” albums, even though it came out 23 years ago today. I mean, come on, this was the album that got The Attractions back together, even if it was a one-off. That’s a big deal. That wasn’t that long ago.
Holy cow, that was 23 years ago.
On March 8, 1994, Elvis Costello released his fifteenth studio album. It was a welcome return to form after the prior year’s pop-and-string-quartet experiment, The Juliet Letters. For fans, this was everything we could have hoped for in reuniting The Attractions. The album is a rocker, with the occasional Costello ballad thrown into the mix with tracks like “Still Too Soon To Know” and the somber final cut, “Favourite Hour.“
The album shoots out of the gate with its tail on fire after a subdued Bruce Thomas bassline and Steve Nieve‘s tinkling piano introduce the opening track, “Pony Street.” Despite being on the cusp of his fortieth birthday, Declan MacManus proves that he is still the angry young man we’d all come to love, growling and spitting his lyrics with sarcasm and condescension. And despite being predominantly uptempo, this is by no means a feel-good record. “Kinder Murder” is powerhouse rock’n’roll recounting a rape that sounds like it was written from headlines. “20% Amnesia” is a horror show travelogue. Even the bouncy 1960’s soul of “Clown Strike” plays with themes of abandonment and desertion.
Still, despite some of the dire subject matter, it is difficult for me still not to be glad to listen to this release. I might have mentioned, it features The Attractions together on record for the first time since 1986. Kind of a big deal. I didn’t get into Elvis’s music until 1989, so this was the first time I heard a new Elvis Costello & The Attractions record when it was still their current album. And Declan is still at the top of his game in terms of songwriting and wordplay. Furthermore, the renewed energy of this legendary outfit playing together again is evident – the whole disc is electric.
When it came out, some saw this release as a nostalgia-fueled money-grab, but from my perspective then – and now – it was just another Elvis Costello album, and a particularly excellent one, at that. It wasn’t King Of America or Armed Forces, but then, nothing could be. But it was a damn sight more enjoyable than The Juliet Letters and Get Happy!! and makes a strong case for being in my Top 10 Elvis albums. Maybe not Top 5, but definitely Top 10. It hasn’t lost a step in over 20 years.