Song of the Day #5,031: ‘Sulky Girl’ – Elvis Costello

Continuing my look at 1994, first by counting down my own top ten albums of that year.

#8 – Brutal Youth – Elvis Costello

A long time ago on this blog, I referred to Brutal Youth as “one of the highlights of the back half of Costello’s career.” I guess that was true when I wrote it, more than a decade ago.

This album was Costello’s 16th of 33 (and counting), putting it just before the midpoint in terms of recorded output. And it was released in the 27th year of his 55-year (and counting) career, again putting it just before the midpoint. So now, rather than representing the “back half” of his career, I guess Brutal Youth falls at almost the exact center.

This album also fell at the height of my Elvis Costello fandom. It was a perfect combination of him firing on all cylinders and me having the time, energy and curiosity to soak it all in. I remember playing segments of these songs over and over again to try to decipher the labyrinthine lyrics.

Brutal Youth was the soundtrack to many a drive my 22-year-old self made, to school, to work, to my girlfriend’s house, rinse, repeat.

If I was ranking these albums back then, this one would easily be in the top five. Nearly 30 years later, it has slipped a bit. Some of its songs are a bit grating now for these old ears, and it feels its 15-track length.

But it still contains ample treasures. Among them are ‘London’s Brilliant Parade,’ ‘Clown Strike,’ ‘Rocking Horse Road,’ ‘All the Rage,’ and today’s SOTD. Costello is a master songwriter and he delivered some of his best songs here, whatever half of his career they fell on.

[Verse 1]
She wears a wedding ring her sister lent
To throw them off the scent
Just let them guess, it’s what they expect
Who in the world has bitten her neck?
She’s discovered wearing last night’s dress
The carnal and cunning, she couldn’t express
Who do you think she’s trying to impress?

[Chorus]
I think you’d better hold your tongue
Although you’ve never been that strong
I’m sorry to say that i knew all along
You’re no match for that sulky girl

[Verse 2]
She left her european town
Before she let the family down
She couldn’t stand the massacre game
So she dyed her hair and adopted another name
With the evidence of passing out stamped on her hand
She glows in the dark
He thinks she’s from another planet
[Chorus]

[Bridge]
Sulky girl
I’m sure you look a picture when you cry
Threatening the silent treatment doesn’t qualify
It’s like money in the bank
Your expression is blank
But while the chance appears
You’ll be nearer to tears
Sulky girl
Sulky girl

[Verse 3]
He said “hello, my pretty flower”
Just trying out his tycoon power
Avoiding the mirror, her pitying stare
She said “you’re mistaken, your money’s no good in here”
Just some stupid little know-it-all
Who thought she looked easy; he’s not that astute
He’ll pay for the distance
Between cruelty and beauty

[Chorus]

[Verse 4]
I won’t tell you again
What do you gain
By blackening her name
She’s smarter than you
Oh isn’t it a shame
You’re gonna lose that sulky girl
Sulky girl
I saw you practicing your blackmail faces
Suddenly you’re talking like a duchess
But you’re still a waitress
I saw through your pretense
But in my defense
There are a few events
I think will spare the censor

[Outro]
Sulky girl [x4]

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #5,031: ‘Sulky Girl’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    The height of my EC fandom peaked a few years earlier than yours when Spike was released, and I similarly devoured that album as you did with Brutal Youth. My interest in new material remained with his next album, Mighty Like a Rose, but then admittedly began to wane with Juliette Letters, which, while beautiful, I never really could get into.

    So, when Brutal Youth was released, I was looking forward to a return of the sound with which I fell in love, but perhaps my ears had also gotten a bit too old by then as I found the opening tracks rather jarring, and so I tended to not regularly or repeatedly make it through the rest of the album.

    Years later, probably at least in part based upon your high praise for the album, I gave it another spin and realized I should have gone beyond the opening tracks (though I also came to appreciate those more as well on further listening) to the great (and relatively more mellow) songs on the rest of the album, like today’s SOTD.

  2. Amy says:

    Jon Batiste’s beautiful acceptance speech when he won Album of the year sums it up perfectly for me… a song (or album) finds you when you need it most, when it’s most likely to resonate with you. What music we love has as much to do with when we’re making those drives and what’s spinning through the universe in those moments. Daniel has reflected on our drives back and forth to school. They started when he was 5 and Maddie was 10 and continued until he was a sophomore in high school. Throughout those years, we discovered and fell in love with Taylor Swift, along with but more so than a bunch of other artists. As a college student driving back and forth to UF, and with a nudge from college friends, his drives often consist of Kanye tunes, something that would never found their way onto our school drive playlists.

    All this to say, in 1994, I was married, living in Ft. Myers, teaching at the community college (where my students turned me on to Counting Crows and Dave Matthews 😁), managing an educational bookstore and likely having very little inclination to listen to the 16th Elvis Costello album despite having loved several earlier ones very much. Im not sure what the heck I was listening to (hoping your blog will jog the old memory soon!), but t was not this album either when it was released or in any of the years since.

    Meanwhile, I was tickled to see TS will be dropping Wildflowers in June! 👍🏼

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