Review of Mighty Like A Rose
Age (Green Guide),1991-06-06
- Shaun Carney
ELVIS COSTELLO: 'Mighty Like a Rose' (Warner Bros. 7599-26575-2)
ALTHOUGH Elvis Costello won much critical acclaim claim for his 1989 album, Spike, I found it pretentious, too studied in its execution and over-produced to within an inch of its life. With his follow-up release, Mighty Like a Rose, Costello has taken steps to loosen up (by replacing Spike's main producer, T-Bone Burnett, with keyboard ace Mitchell Froom) and return to what he does well (by returning to the conventional pop song format).
Another important move has been to re-enlist his long-time drummer Pete Thomas for six of the album's 14 tracks. Thomas shares drum chores with veteran session-man Jim Keltner and the difference between their styles-Thomas is all flailing energy while Keltner is canny restraint-gives Costello more room in which to move about in the pop format.
Costello has always been one of the best Iyricists of the rock era, with a tendency to be clever-clever. Now he is less clever and far more verbose; I have never seen so many Iyrics crammed into one album. Anybody who has heard the album's sublime opening cut, The Other Side of Summer, will get the idea. In less than four minutes, Costello attacks the romanticising of summer (and parodies the Beach Boys along the way), advertising, today's younger generation, today's older generation, pop music, polluters, capitalism and John Lennon (Costello sings: "Was it a millionaire who said 'imagine no possessions'?").
Ironically, perhaps, there are two songs co-written with Paul McCartney, a standout being the delicate distillation of heartache and despair, So Like Candy. It is only one good moment in an album crammed with great moments, however, like Costello's neatly-structured guitar solo on Sweet Pear and his chilling vocal performance on his wife Cait's song, Broken. Mighty Like a Rose is an overwhelming return to form.
Costello has spent five years now fighting the demands of fans who wanted him to stay the same angry-clever New Waver. This album is a skilful compromise between his ambitions and the expectations of his followers. Like his truly great records of the early '80s, it improves with every listen.