In "The Other Side of Summer," the opening cut and first single from Elvis Costello's new album, Mighty Like a Rose (Warner Brothers), the English singer and songwriter has written what may be the ultimate antidote to traditionally euphoric fun-in-the-sun seasonal anthems.
"From the foaming breakers of the poisonous surf / To the burning forest in the hills of AstroTurf / The other side of summer," he announces. In a song that goes on to describe a world that is physically and spiritually disintegrating, Mr. Costello even takes a swipe at John Lennon. "Was it a millionaire who said, 'Imagine no possessions?'" he asks.
The tone becomes even nastier with the second cut, "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)," a slice of science-fiction horror whose narrator gleefully predicts that "a giant insect mutation will swoop down and devour the white man's burden."
Has the 35-year-old post-punk songwriter given up on humanity, or is he just having fun playing devil's advocate?
"I think that everyone has the experience on certain days of waking up, reading the paper and thinking, 'Wouldn't it be better if man was gone?'" Mr. Costello said the other day in a telephone interview from his home on the outskirts of Dublin. "The song is not saying we should kill everybody. I'm hoping that by taking the blackest comedic position, there will be some kind of release from all those feelings."
"'The Other Side of Summer' is not a slap at John Lennon," he went on. "John Lennon wrote some wonderful songs, but 'Imagine,' which has been so sanctified, was one of his worst. He didn't think it all the way through."
If none of the songs on Mighty Like a Rose could be described as happy or optimistic, none of the rest are quite so misanthropic as the first two. That was intentional, Mr. Costello said.
"The album begins from an outward-looking comedic perspective and moves toward a more intimate one," he explained. "Some critics have called the record cynical, which I wholly reject. I think it's a very skeptical record. A cynic does not admit the possibility of hope, while a skeptic invites faith."
The singer pointed to the last two lines of the album's final song, "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4," as expressing what he means by skeptical. "Please don't let me fear anything I cannot explain," he sings. "I can't believe I'll never believe in anything again."