It's hard to believe this guy once made an album called Get Happy.
Mighty Like a Rose is about as far from happy as it gets. The happiest lyrics contained within are "You're still so young / You haven't earned the weariness / That sounds so jaded on your tongue."
But Elvis Costello, rock's reigning lyrical genius, knows that pain is the writer's greatest weapon. As usual, the complex imagery and various verbal concoctions on his latest release are unparalleled.
The record begins with the single, "The Other Side of Summer," an infectious, summery pop song replete with Beach Boyish falsetto harmonies. But the lyrics are a menagerie of disturbing images, right from the opening. "The sun struggles up another beautiful day / And I feel glad in my own suspicious way." No tales of little old ladies or California girls in this tune.
Other songs smack of bitterness and frustration, and biting sarcasm, a Costello trademark. His sights are trained on his world of nine-to-five in "How to be Dumb." The dramatic chorus with its majestic keyboards harkens back to "Like a Roiling Stone," only the crucial question has changed from "How does it feel to be on your own" to "Don't you know how to be dumb?"
Especially emotional is the brilliant "So Like Candy," co-written with Paul McCartney and stamped with that same "For No One" brand of helplessness. The stark arrangement of this song, as well as the Spanish-influenced "After the Fall" and the haunting "Broken," emphasizes the bleak themes presented.
The album has its up moments musically. "Playboy to a Man," another McCartney collaboration, is a rocker in true Attractions tradition.
The closing song, "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4." plods along with a semi-polka beat that belies the terrifying images portrayed. It acts as a lyrical apocalypse in the context of the album, ending with the chilling couplet, "Please don't let me fear anything I cannot explain / I can't believe I'll never believe in anything again."