You can always trust Elvis Costello to take liberties. It's been 13 albums since this angry young man first shot his sonic spike into the heart of the music world.
Mighty Like A Rose proves that his aim is still true.
This year's model finds Costello punching the clock with the armed forces of Paul McCartney, John Lennon's drummer, Elvis Presley's guitarist and bassist, Tom Petty's keyboardist and New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band. You might expect Costello's chosen company to lift his almost blue spirits to a more up beat mood. But this guy just can't seem to get happy.
Costello's still got an axe to grind and this celebrated cluster of musicians has just sharpened the edge and quickened the delivery. Co-writing songs with McCartney did not produce any silly love songs. If anything, it seems to have brought out the cynicism of John Lennon in Costello's writing.
He even exorcises Lennon's voice and guitar in "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)." In the tradition of Lennon's "Yer Blues" and "I Found Out," Costello chills us with a warning to, "Forget about Beethoven, Rembrandt and rock and roll / Forget about Mickey Mouse, Marlboro and Coca Cola / Forget about Cadillac, Mercedes and Toyota / Forget about Buddha, Allah, Jesus and Jehovah / Hurry down Doomsday the bugs are taking over."
McCartney co-wrote "Playboy To A Man" with Costello but didn't join him on the recording. The writing credits may belong to both of them but the voice Costello sings this song with definitely belongs to McCartney. I think most Beatle fans will mistakenly think that McCartney is delivering the final verse when they hear this tune on the radio.
Musical strains from the Beatle's "She's Leaving Home" and "Eleanor Rigby" can be found in Costello's "All Grown Up." His lyrical advice, however, is not typical of Lennon and McCartney's sweetness. Costello reminds a disillusioned girl that she's not so grown up. "Why don't you stop blaming some guy / And go give the next one a try," he bluntly advises.
With a perfect parody of a Beach Boy summer epic, Costello turns his acidic attention to the down side of the season on "The Other Side Of Summer." He compares and contrasts the magic and the malice by singing of the poisonous surf on a warm beautiful day.
The chromed Chevy chorus of pure Beach Boy falsettos is tarnished by Costello's image of the unsung California girl. He won't let us forget that, "A teenage gal is crying 'cause she don't look like a million dollars / So help her if you can / 'Cause she don't seem to have the attention span."
In a pop music hothouse that seems to be choking on its own crab grass, Costello's fertile imagination continues to flower. While others trim and prune, he simply rotates his crops.
Mighty Like A Rose will not disappoint Costello's faithful fans. Others should be warned that the mightier the rose, the thicker the thorns will be.