Record Collector, January 2003

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Record Collector


Mighty Like A Rose

Elvis Costello

Peter Doggett

"Many of my early records have been described as being 'angry'," notes Elvis Costello in his typically long and confessional sleevenote, "a quality that I think is exaggerated by a quirk of my vocal delivery. However, if you really want to hear an angry record, then this disc is for you."

What a strange record it is, too. It followed on the heels of Spike — which, as Costello explains, had been the best-selling record of his career. "Nothing seemed beyond the realm of the pop song," he notes. Nothing, perhaps, except the barely containable anger and discomfort of a man who, by 1991, was an acknowledged master of the studio and the entire pop palette, but felt himself entirely out of kilter with the rest of the human race.

That's undoubtedly why Mighty Like A Rose is stuffed with as much sonic invention, lyrical finesse, melodic charm and emotional commitment as most artists' whole careers — and also why it left virtually no trace on the outside world. There was no way that the record-buying public of 1991 could connect with songs such as "Invasion Hit Parade" and "Hurry Down Doomsday," both of which are brimming with naked feeling and yet utterly incomprehensible without the explanatory sleevenotes included here. Contrast them with the sole song not penned by Costello, his wife Cait O'Riordan's "Broken." Her stark imagery cuts like a scalpel to the bone with chilling simplicity. Meanwhile, Elvis is still trying to grapple with his steam locomotive, which is dangerously overfuelled and threatening to explode.

In keeping with both the excess of the original album, and the generosity of Costello's reissue programme, there's an entire album of bonus material. This features home demos of almost every song, out-takes (one of which, "Forgive Her Anything," is the equal of anything on the finished LP), and period rarities, from an MTV Unplugged cameo to collaborations with the Chieftains, Mary Coughlan and Rob Wasserman. The sheer weight of music adds to the magnificent, blinkered obsession of an album which would have been more at home on a therapist's couch than a megastore.

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Record Collector, No. 281, January 2003

Peter Doggett reviews the Rhino reissue of Mighty Like A Rose.


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