Elvis Costello's last single "The Other Side of Summer" was greeted in some quarters with howls of "sell-out."
And even though it is probably one of his most accessible — a popular euphemism for blatantly commercial — it would be churlish to tar his latest and 13th studio album Mighty Like A Rose (Warner Bros CD7599265752) with the same brush.
While betraying the full range of emotions, the adopted Scouser still manages 14 three-minute pop gems. Well, 13 — if you ignore the dire "Broken" penned by Elvis's wife, Cait.
What makes Mighty Like A Rose so stimulating is its lavish arrangements coupled with Costello's undoubted perceptive writing talents (reminiscent in places of vintage Langer/Winstanley collaborations with Squeeze).
"All Grown Up" scampers along over notes cascading on a delightful sweep of violins, while a sparse Spanish guitar and harmonium on "After The Fall" set up a haunting backdrop to Costello's sonorous tale of lost love.
The first of two co-compositions with Paul McCartney is evident on "So Like Candy," which betrays the ex-Beatle's ability to pluck a simple melody from almost nothing. It's complemented by Costello's languid vocals.
But their second effort on "Playboy To A Man" almost shatters the spellbinding atmospherics of Mighty Like A Rose by compromising Elvis's streetwise and powerful lyrical observations with some very average four-bar rock 'n' roll.
However, Mighty Like A Rose — which features former Elvis Presley guitarist and bassist James Burton and Jerry Scheff — is, if nothing else, unpredictable and uncompromising and shows that Costello, like a good wine, matures with age.