Monday, September 1, 2008

Elvis Costello 15: Mighty Like A Rose

With the success of “Veronica” driving the sales of his last album, Elvis had a hit on his hands. An attempt to record with the Attractions failed, so he went back to the studio with many of the session cats who’d helped on Spike and on the road. Many EC obsessives hated Mighty Like A Rose upon release, lumping in how much they hated his new look—long frizzy hair and an unkempt beard that brought to mind a Hasidic Jerry Garcia. To this day the album still divides fans, despite its obvious improvement over the chaotic Spike. This time the variety of styles is much more cohesive, helped by a liberal dose of Costello-brand bile.
“The Other Side Of Summer” opens the proceedings with a big Beach Boys production, complete with harmonies and Spector touches. The irony is deflated by the clanky “Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)”, a apocalyptic rant whose sole redeeming quality is to give Jim Keltner songwriting royalties for the drum loop. “How To Be Dumb” brings things back to normal, with a diatribe against Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas, who’d used his downtime to write a book about his life as a musician (though it’s hard to say why Elvis was so pissed, since the worst thing the book says about his is that he suffered from aviophobia). “Invasion Hit Parade” is an angry response to that year’s Gulf War, and sadly makes just as much sense today. “All Grown Up” and “Harpies Bizarre” recall the baroque sound of Imperial Bedroom, while “After The Fall” is an uncanny Leonard Cohen homage.
The second half of the album has just as many peaks; “So Like Candy” is as aching a McCartney collaboration as “Playboy To A Man” is silly. “Sweet Pear” goes a step further with a nod to “Don’t Let Me Down” and includes Elvis’s only labored guitar solo. “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4” provides a grand finale, its chorus of horns, banjo and toy piano leading a march into the sunset out of the man’s most passionate vocal to date.
Mighty Like A Rose found nowhere near the success of his previous album, and was unfairly maligned as the decade went on. Rhino’s treatment of the album added some excellent live tracks and leftovers, along with some home demos that can best be described as “orchestrated”. The album still holds up a decade and a half on, even though he’s never gone back to the beard look.

Elvis Costello Mighty Like A Rose (1991)—4
2002 Rhino: same as 1991, plus 17 extra tracks

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