Monday, July 6, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 34)

34. "Sulky Girl"
Artist: Elvis Costello
Year: 1994

What a time to be a fan. We were in the middle of a huge reissue campaign, and I found myself snagging all of Elvis Costello's Columbia albums again. This time it was for the artist's witty liner notes and the bevy of bonus tracks. It couldn't possibly get any better than this... at least not until Ryko's licensing deal ended in 2000. Grr. On March 8, 1994, it did, in fact, get better. That's when 'Brutal Youth' hit the racks. I was home from Japan for a quick stop. As was the tradition back in the day, the record store I used to work in was having a midnight opening to drum up business for that week's huge new release. Oh, you thought I meant 'Brutal Youth.' Sorry. This was the cow pastures of Illinois. The kids were lining up outside for 'The Downward Spiral' by Nine Inch Nails and, to a lesser extent, 'Superunknown' from Soundgarden. Since I couldn't sleep anyway (brutal jet lag), I offered to help out my old pals at the shop. If just one customer came in for 'Brutal Youth,' my night would be made. Alas, the one copy sold was to myself.

Those earlier post-Columbia years were pretty trying for me. Particularly after the disappointing 'Mighty Like a Rose' ('Goodbye Cruel World' was the only one worse), the prospect of an album (or at least five songs on the album) with the Attractions was never more welcome. Even more exciting was the prospect of seeing them together on stage. I had been to several of Costello's shows, but I never had the opportunity to see him backed by the Attractions. There was no way I was going to miss out on what always felt like a temporary reunion. When he came to Japan in September, I took the four-hour train ride to Osaka to see the last of nine shows the band performed in that country. The experience was weird and wonderful. I had never been to a concert in Japan. The show was in a fancy tri-tiered theater, and the crowd was, to put it nicely, reserved. There was polite clapping between songs. Rear ends were glued to seats until the encore. Nobody talked. It sounds terrible, but the band's performance was top notch, and I have to admit it was kind of nice to have no distractions. It's an interesting juxtaposition to seeing them at the Capitol Ballroom in D.C. a couple of years later. It was standing room only, my chest was pressed up against the stage, the screaming never stopped and Costello made eyes at my wife for most of the show.

The "Sulky Girl" link at the top of this post is for the single version, clocking in at about two minutes shorter than the album version below. I have several live takes of the song, and this one is the best. It's a soundboard recording from Kosei Nenkin Hall, Tokyo, on Sept. 22, eight days before I saw him.

"Sulky Girl" (Album Version)
"Sulky Girl" (Live)


george said...

Agree wholeheartedly with Goodbye Cruel World, Brian. Brutal Youth is one of my favourites of ECs.

kevinpat said...

Oh no, no, no, no, no! Does that mean "All This Useless Beauty" doesn't make the list??? Oh no!! Love me some All This Useless Beauty album but especially song. "Sulky…" good but not "Useless…" Brutal Youth is also great. I saw Elvis' solo show last year and it was incredible. He did many songs from both albums and just hearing him doing them all by himself gave them all some extra intensity. Truly a special show to have seen. A master. And yes, he did All This Useless Beauty on piano. Ahhhhhh. What shall we do…. Thanks Bri.

The Swede said...

If I only have time to reach for just one Elvis album it's always going to be 'Imperial Bedroom', 'King of America' or 'Blood & Chocolate', but you've inspired me to have a bit of a 90's Costello session. If push came to shove, I'd personally probably side with kevinpat in selecting something from 'All the Useless Beauty' from the 1990's, but this is a great tune, great story and great post.

kevinpat said...

@The Swede ~ I already have my copy of 'This Year's Model" packed for the desert island. That one packs a wollop!! Whew. But admitted he has a w0nDeRfUl catalogue of albums and classic songs for a 40 year run.

Brian said...

This love for All This Useless Beauty is a pleasant surprise. It's a great record, one I had not played for a long time until a few months ago when I was assembling candidates for this list. I had identified three songs for possible inclusion on the countdown. They were All This Useless Beauty, Poor Fractured Atlas and It's Time. Two of these songs are beautiful piano ballads. In case anyone is interested, there were a couple of other songs from the '90s I liked a lot. Even though I didn't like Mighty Like a Rose, I thought the Other Side of Summer was great and sounded like something right out of the Attractions' notebook. I Almost Had a Weakness was a song he did with the Brodsky Quartet that was delivered with the venom of his younger days, and the strings still give me goosebumps. In the end, the first single from Brutal Youth won out more for the exciting feeling I had upon hearing the band playing together again. I bought the single before the album came out, and I played it over and over again. It's all very personal.

Kevinpat, you mentioned the piano and voice of the title track on Costello's recent tour. That reminded me of the Costello & Nieve box set that chronicled five shows the duo did together in America circa '96. If you don't have that, I think that would be right up your alley. All This Useless Beauty is on disc two from San Francisco.

George and Swede, Your comments have me thinking a lot about Costello's entire discography. Perhaps we need a side post about our all-time favorite albums. I'll work on that...

kevinpat said...

For me the strength of a great song is how it withstands a cover version. Unlike a lot of people I talk to I love cover songs. I spend far too much time making comps of covers of great songwriters. Someday I'll actually figure out how to zippy share and share my little labors of love. I did make a 2 volume set of Elvis Costello covers, which included two versions of "All This Useless Beauty", one by the band Lush, and one absolutely gorgeous version by June Tabor. Listen and you'll again hear what an incredible song this actually is. Unfortunately I could find no covers of "Sulky Girl". Sorry Bri. But I'm with you on just especially loving a song or album that came to you in a special way, and who doesn't love singles? Picture sleeves and all! Thanks for the Costello/Nieve box set lead! I'll look for that. And I also love "The Other Side of Summer". Classic Costello. (This is fun! Thanks!)

Charity Chic said...

Partly agree with the Swede - King of America or Blood and Chocolate for me
Brutal Youth is a return to form and possibly his last really good album?

Brian said...

Hi CC. There are so many great albums, especially between '77 and '86. Before Brutal Youth, it felt there was a bit of a gap, eh? There are some unanswered questions about Costello's discography after that I'm hoping we can answer in my next post. Stay tuned.