Elvis is alive and well. Not the drug-addled dinosaur from Memphis but Elvis Costello, the British angst-ridden punk who emerged after the mid-70s on Stiff Records.
Now, fifteen years later and sporting a new look, Costello releases his newest album in two years, Mighty Like A Rose. He's joined here by the likes of drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Larry Knechtel, Tom Petty's keyboardist Benmont Tench, and even members of the New Orleans swing-jazz group, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Paul McCartney even helps with the writing on two of the songs, "So Like Candy" and "Playboy To A Man."
This work may be every bit as good as his 1979 release Armed Forces. The album opens with typical Costello irony as he uses a Beach Boy-bopping melody to sing about what life is really like on "The Other Side of Summer."
Then, Elvis changes gears in "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)" and sounds like John Lennon both musically and vocally. In "How To Be Dumb" he returns to expected E.C. sound as he attacks all the '"beautiful people (who) stampede to the doorway of the funniest f—er in the world" and other moderns.
Then "All Grown Up" returns to a Beatles-influenced lushness and seems to establish the pattern for the rest of this work. The song advises a young girl, "You haven't earned the weariness / That sounds so jaded on your tongue."
Both this number and "Harpies Bizarre" have a softer sound that show potential selling ability on some of the softer-rock stations.
What a shock listeners would receive if those folks went out and bought this album based upon listening to these pieces.
The album is filled with outstanding works worth noting: Ross McManus' weird trumpet on "Invasion Hit Parade," there's more of the pre-1985 sound in "Georgie and Her Rival" and "After the Fall" depicts twisted lives a'la Faulkner's A Rose for Emily in a spookily subdued manner that's dominated by Costello's voice and the Spanish guitar work of Marc Ribot.
While the voice has grown softer with age, Costello's wit and wry observations are as sharp and acrimonious as ever, and his writing has improved in its intricacies and methods.