Perhaps realizing that The Juliet Letters was one step too far, especially after the willfully eclectic pair of Spike and Mighty Like a Rose, Elvis Costello set out to make a straight-ahead rock & roll record with Brutal Youth, reuniting with the Attractions (though Bruce Thomas appears on only five tracks) and Nick Lowe (who plays bass on most of the rest). Unfortunately, all this nostalgia and good intentions are cancelled by the retention of producer Mitchell Froom, whose junkyard, hazily cerebral productions stand in direct contrast to the Attractions' best work. Likely, Froom's self-conscious production appealed to Costello, since it makes Brutal Youth look less like a retreat, but it severely undercuts the effectiveness of the music, since it lacks guts, no matter how smugly secure it is in its tempered "experimentation." Costello certainly had the raw elements for a dynamic little record here -- the band, when they can be heard, sound good, and many songs (highlighted by "Pony St.," "Kinder Murder," "13 Steps Lead Down," "You Tripped at Every Step," and "20% Amnesia") are fresh, effective evocations of his classic work -- but it needed to be punchier to succeed. He needed to be produced by Lowe, instead of just having him sit in on bass.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine