Washington Post, June 14, 1991

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Mighty Costello misses his punches

John F. Kelly

Elvis Costello hasn't been an angry young man for quite some time. Still, there's enough vitriol left in his veins to start his new album, Mighty Like a Rose, with a wonderful, carcinogenic perversion of the Beach Boys' view of summer. Hearing "The Other Side of Summer" — with a chorus that includes "From the foaming breakers of the poisonous surf... To the burning forests in the hills of Astroturf" — might make you apply an extra helping of sunblock.

Costello follows it up, though, with "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)," a technorhythmic litany of apocalyptic doom that he can't quite bring off. Having jettisoned his former backing band the Attractions and assembled a veritable studio supergroup — including drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist T-Bone Wolk and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band — the newly hairy Elvis doesn't seem to know quite what to do. He recycles the guitar lick from 1986's "Next Time Round" on "How to Be Dumb" (which might be a grenade lobbed at former Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas or a pointed criticism of the singer himself and other "smart" rockers), strangles the vocals on "Playboy to a Man" (one of two songs on the album written with Paul McCartney) and allows Keltner's fussy, mannered drumming to suck the life out of many of the songs.

Without a firm producer's hand (Mitchell Froom is credited), much of the album — especially the woodwind-encrusted "Harpies Bizarre" — ends up sounding precious.

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The Washington Post, June 14, 1991

John F. Kelly reviews Mighty Like A Rose.


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