Elvis CostelloMighty Like a Rose
After three albums, Elvis Costello had already proved that he is a prodigy, like Mozart or the original Elvis. Unlike Mozart, Costello was not afforded the luxury of dying at the peak of his creativity, but with Mighty Like a Rose, it is doubtful he will be playing Vegas lounges anytime soon.
Mighty Like a Rose is a settling point for the man who transcended the gimmicky trenches of late '70s new-wave, effortlessly capturing the spirit of a wide range of musical styles while successfully invoking pathos, passion and politics in his lyrical themes.
"Despite the contradiction and confusion/Felt tragic without reason/There's malice and magic in every season," from the first verse of the first song, The Other Side of Summer, not only exemplifies Costello's inimitable ability to combine free-flowing lyricism with dark overtones, but it is an apt summation of his career-long flirtation with angry isolationism.
But how attractive is an angry young man's suit on someone approaching middle age?
Costello takes iconoclastic stabs at John Lennon and Sting on two separate songs on Rose, as if he doesn't notice that he too has become a Christ-figure in the eyes of many, or that the chip-on-his-shoulder routine has grown predictable to others. But aside from these blatant self-contradictions, Costello has not so much changed his lyrical themes, as found ways to express them more subtly, as befits maturity.
Although Costello reverts to a more obscure story-telling style, unlike the politically potent Spike of '89, he has not left social commentary behind. The rites of human courtship and conquest are mirrored sardonically in Harpies Bizarre and rather cryptically in After the Fall.
The searing How to Be Dumb finds Costello's sense of irony fully intact. Blatantly Attractions-like, the song is a rebuttal for former bassist Bruce Thomas, who went on to write an unflattering book about his experience in the defunct band.
Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over) is certainly the weirdest
song on Rose, if not one of Costello's creepiest ever. Using a dissonant spectrum of clang and bang, Costello paints a picture of apocalyptic commercialism, twisting and distorting his already aggrieved voice to accommodate the theme. It is as effective as it is ugly.
The beauty of Costello's songwriting ability is also explored through luxurious ballads such as All Grown Up and Sweet Pear, reminiscent of King of America when Costello reverted momentarily to his birth name, Declan MacManus.
As with Spike, two more results of Costello's collaboration with Paul McCartney are included on Rose. McCartney's influence on Just Like Candy is readily felt in its fine love-lost balladeer form.
Playboy to Man, with its brief intro, Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 2, by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, is as tuneful and fierce as anything Costello has ever executed.
Though Rose is not his strongest effort, there is no denying that even in its weakest moments, Costello's songwriting still has a lot of life left.