Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: Mighty Like A Rose

This is not a very joyous album. It's bleak, angry, intimidating and sad for most of its running time. Mighty Like Rose also contains what could possibly be the worst album performance Costello's ever done, "Playboy to a Man." Every time I listen to this album I dread this song's arrival. Another Costello-McCartney composition, the version in this album is like a train wreck put to a beat. Costello's voices does the weirdest contortions, sounding manic and harsh, while the band seems to be playing two different songs at once. Thankfully, it ends shortly after three minutes. I always skip it. Besides, there so many others to enjoy.

Released in 1991, Mighty Like a Rose was originally intended as an Attractions album but due to a "legal squabble" (or most likely the 1990 publication of Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas' book The Big Wheel) ended up featuring many of the same players from Spike and King of America. "The Other Side of Summer" opens the album with a sardonic look at what lies beneath the gloss of popular culture, all performed in an fantastic Beach Boys-style tune. The video conveys this perfectly inter-cutting flashy sights of a Hollywood paradise with homeless faces and a dour, bearded Elvis Costello performing amid a bevy of models.


Most of the album features lush orchestral pop songs and a few grim experiments. "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over)" and "Invasion Hit Parade" are assaults on all senses that despite some interesting sounds fail to captivate. "How to be Dumb" plays out like a response to Bruce Thomas' book, which detailed the dynamic between the singer and the band during relentless touring. The song is one of Costello's best put downs, including the line: "You could've walked out any time you wanted, but face it, you didn't have the courage"

The anger theme continues with "All Grown Up," another response song though one that's tempered with one Costello's best vocals and a grand orchestral arrangement. This one sounds like it could be directed to a former flame who would take credit for several of Costello's songs. "So Like Candy" is another McCartney-Costello composition and one that sounds just as a good as "Veronica." A perfect pop song for those struck with heartbreak.

The album closes with the song I'd like to hear when the curtain closes on me. "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4," is a carnival-like tune on the subject of death and belief or the lack of it. Though I love this version, I've also enjoy ed subsequent live versions that are stripped down to just Steve Nieve at the piano and Costello's unamplified voice. He often asks audience members to join in, something I hope to do the Spinning Songbook Tour rolls into town.

Classics: The Other Side of Summer, All Grown Up, So Like Candy, Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4

Songs I'd like to hear live: How to be Dumb, So Like Candy, Couldn't Call it Unexpected No. 4

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