Review of Mighty Like A Rose
NME, 2000-05-17
- Glyn Brown


Mighty Like A Rose WEA 759926575/MC/CD

WHEN A NEW offering from Elvis Costello is rumoured, the tense punter quivers with anticipatory excitement, flinches with a frisson of fear. As we well know, Costello is acutely aware of the ugliness of the planet; for him, the job is to reveal it.

Unfortunately, at his worst the man has a tendency to be both patronising and didactic in a way which, frankly, is less than useless in righting the miserable situations he discusses. Side one of 'Mighty Like A Rose' is a fine example.

Kicking off with the single, 'The Other Side Of Summer', Costello marries unfettered cynicism and disgust ("The mightiest rose, the absence of perfume/The casual killers/The military curfew") with a grim travesty of a tune. Uncertain as to the exact tenor of the album, we await further clues. They come with `Invasion Hit Parade', a 1984 style hoedown where "the black market eats up all your failures" and your neighbour is a Hitler Youth-type informer.

'How To Be Dumb' is all-out, almost cherishable for its utter nihilism. The song may be a diatribe against a current government policy of de-education. The lyric doesn't mess: "Scratch your own head, stupid/Count up to three/Roll over on your back/Repeat after me/Now you know how to be dumb..."

`All Grown Up' opens simply enough: "I'm trouble, she said, spread out on the floor of her father's house".

All this invective would somehow seem more worthwhile if at least there were a touch of humour and listenable, dynamic melodies. But the numbers so-far listed sound like identical grey shirts flapping forlornly in a winter breeze.

Thank God, then, for 'After The Fall' with its Spanish guitar, which lends a certain poetry to the expected hangdog lyric.

And so to side two, which contains Costello treasure. The upbeat tempo of `Georgie And Her Rival'delivers punch musicality and wordsmithing are to the story of agirl's jealousy, and the couplets ("Georgie grew to hate her name/It sounded like a tiny man") are faultless.

'So Like Candy' is magnificent, the slurred dissection of a violent, shattered love told in a prowling drawl, 'Playboy To A Man' is - at last - raucous, strutting and funny, an indictment of the ubiquitous medallion man.

Following this, a pair of songs which stand out. Costello's wife, ex-Pogue Cait O'Riordan, pens the lyric on 'Broken', a declaration of love so stark in its misted, devout mysticism, and so open-veined,it is breathtaking. And Costello hits perfection with a sparing, honest rejoiner, 'Sweet Pear'. Here, the artist's musicality and wordsmithing are to the point and tounching. "'TiI we're burned and scattered in the atmosphere/l am your stupid lover, your wretched groom".

We wind up with the idiosyncratic 'Couldn't Call It Unexpected', a rag and bone look at life's oddity that's as glowing and unsettling as a Stanley Spencer painting. And once again, stomped upon and at last uplifted, we finish up Costello's willing victims, accepting the pratfalls for the perfection...