MIT Tech, June 26, 1991

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The return of the mighty Elvis Costello


Jeremy Hylton

New release Mighty Like A Rose stands up on vinyl and in concert

Elvis Costello, the most acerbic voice of post-punk alternative music, is middle-aged. He also sports a beard on the cover of his new album, Mighty Like a Rose. Last year's release of Girls Girls Girls reminds one just how long Costello has been angry with the world: The album covers work between 1976-1986. Can he still sound caustic and desperate without sounding bitter and redundant?

Yes. With the help of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and some beautiful orchestration, Costello sounds different. Not his vocals or lyrics, but the sound behind it. This variation on a theme also attests to the collaboration between Costello and Paul McCartney.

In the first single from the album, "The Other Side of Summer," he sings: "A teenage girl is crying 'cos she don't look like a million dollars / So help her if you can / 'Cos she don't seem to have the attention span." These lyrics don't sound any different than the lyrics for Spike (well, maybe the songs aren't as angry as "Tramp the Dirt Down" was), but Costello is singing over a melody that is reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

"The Other Side of Summer" sets a rather serious tone for the album with its environmental message: It ends "And kiss 'goodbye' to the earth / The other side of summer." Costello, however, follows the song with "Hurry Down Doomsday," whose title belies its comical nature. The song's subtitle is "The Bugs Are Taking Over."

This is a fun song. Each chorus ends with Costello, more talking than singing, shouting "You want to scream and shout my little waxen lout / Hurry down doomsday the bugs are taking over." The cut has all the drama and comedy of a 1950s sci-fi flick as well as a litany of things Costello will forget that rivals the list of things John Lennon said he didn't believe in on "God."

Maybe this album does not sound tired because Costello seems to have so much fun on it. In addition to songs like "Hurry Down Doomsday," there are cuts like the 22-second "Interlude: Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 2" (Numbers 1 and 3 are not on the album, but Number 4 is the last track.) This acoustic piece features a rich sound from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that seems to summarize all that was musical about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

The liner notes are a hoot, too. The notes for "Invasion Hit Parade" read: "Big Stupid Guitar and little foolish organ: E.C." while Mitchell Froom and Marc Ribot play the so-called "industrial jack-ass" on "How to be Dumb."

Some of the songs on the album are good because they are pretty — plain and simple. "All Grown Up" is quiet, mournful and heartfelt, with a string and woodwind arrangement providing the perfect accompaniment. "Georgie and Her Rival" is typical, energetic, entertaining Elvis Costello, much like "This Town" from Spike.

Costello's collaboration with McCartney, which produced songs like "Veronica" from Spike and "You Want Her Too" from McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt, continues to influence Costello's work. The two penned a pair of songs for this album, and the song "Sweet Pear" opens with a riff obviously borrowed from the Beatles' work in the late 1960s.

One could draw interesting parallels between Costello and David Bowie. Both have produced wonderful discographies during their careers, as evidenced by their recent retrospectives, but Bowie seems to have faded. His recent work pales in comparison to the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album.

Costello, on the other hand, continues to release interesting and original material. Mighty Like a Rose is not an exception. The album has a number of strong cuts and, more importantly, the material is fresh. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the orchestration only strengthen the album's appeal.

One final note: Mighty Like a Rose is not the pop album that Spike was, but that is hardly criticism.

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The Tech, June 26, 1991


Jeremy Hylton reviews Mighty Like A Rose.


Deborah A. Levinson reviews Elvis Costello with The Rude 5, Friday, June 21, 1991, Great Woods, Mansfield, MA.

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1991-06-26 MIT Tech page 08.jpg
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Elvis Costello

With The Replacements
Great Woods, June 21, 7:30 pm.

Deborah A. Levinson

The last time I saw Elvis Costello perform, it was at Brandeis University, where Costello had stopped as part of the tour supporting his 1989 album, Spike. He was in fine form, both musically and theatrically: Midway through the show, he took requests based on the selection of one of "seven deadly sins" from a giant satin heart.

His show last Friday at Great Woods poured all of that theatrical energy into the music, and the additional effort really showed. Costello sounded sharp, polished, and totally in control. His new band, the Rude 5 (actually comprising four members), was equally tight, especially the drummer, whose opening solo on "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over)" echoed a driving jungle beat.

Costello opened the show with two old numbers, "Accidents Will Happen" and "The Angels Want to Wear my Red Shoes." But this evening was no retrospective of Costello's greatest hits; he dedicated most of his set to his more recent material, including songs from Spike and his current release, Mighty Like a Rose.

Many of the selections from Mighty Like a Rose stood with Costello's earlier work as some of his strongest. One of these was "So Like Candy," a bittersweet song about a lost lover. The song swung with the loose, jazzy rhythm of the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

Curiously, the material from Spike, an album which received mixed reviews, was some of the most dynamic. Costello brought out the gospel flavor and heartache of "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," the poignancy of "Veronica," and the twisted humor of "God's Comic." The latter, a song about a "comical priest" who dies, goes to heaven, meets God, and is told about how miserably humans have screwed up the world, is an unlikely candidate for a sing-along, but that was exactly what Costello did. Imagine thousands of people singing the following lines:

Now I'm dead, now I'm dead,
Now I'm dead, now I'm dead
And I'm going on
to meet my reward
I was scared, I was scared,
I was scared, I was scared
You might have never heard of God's Comic.

Costello's skill as an arranger showed in the concert version of "The Other Side of Summer," the current single. Instead of playing the song straight, matching venomous lyrics with Beach Boys harmonies, Costello switched the song to 6/8 time, giving it a more rollicking feel. He also altered "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over)," augmenting the drum line so that it was not only longer but more prominent. Costello frequently records different arrangements of songs — there are at least three versions of "The Blue Chair" — but it seems as though no version is better than any other; each just draws different emotions and colors from the song. So it was with "Hurry Down Doomsday" and "The Other Side of Summer," which were interesting changes from the originals, but were no more impressive.

He concluded the concert as he had started it, with a series of old standards: "Pump it Up," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and "Alison."

The Replacements opened the evening with "I Will Dare," their jubilant song from Let it Be. Since their inception, they've lost half of their original line-up, replacing guitarist Bob Stinson and drummer Chris Mars. Yet they have retained much of their early sound: the hard-edged guitar, the throbbing bass and drums, and singer Paul Westerberg's anguished, frustrated lyrics.

For a change, the band sounded focused. This was the first time I had ever seen the band perform sober, and they lost their alcohol-induced sloppiness, which, though occasionally both charming and funny, was mostly annoying and detrimental to their music. They slammed through 14 songs in 45 minutes, mixing old songs such as "Waitress in the Sky" and "Answering Machine" with material from their latest album, All Shook Down.

The Replacements' best number, however, turned out to be a cover, "Route 66." They delivered a gritty, bar-band version that blew away Depeche Mode's.

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