Elvis Costello – Reflecting on the 30th Anniversary of “Mighty Like a Rose” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021  

Elvis Costello – Reflecting on the 30th Anniversary of “Mighty Like a Rose”

The Album Came Out May 14, 1991 via Warner Bros.

May 14, 2021 By Matthew Berlyant
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Thirty years ago today, Elvis Costello released Mighty Like a Rose, his 13th studio album overall and his second for Warner Bros. following the successful 1989 album Spike, which produced “Veronica,” to date his only U.S. Top 20 hit. As such, expectations were high, particularly with an MTV Unplugged special close to the release date and the same network constantly playing the video for lead-off album opener and single “The Other End of the Summer,” a bizarro world Beach Boys pastiche in which surf, sand, and fun become death, chaos, and destruction.

The cantankerous mood presents itself throughout the entire record, particularly early on, with “Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over)” reprising the riff from The Who’s “A Legal Matter” and setting it to Costello’s shouted, apocalyptic lyrics. “How to Be Dumb” rackets up the anger level a notch further still, with the lyrics poignantly attacking former Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas, who had just written an autobiography called The Big Wheel that was very critical of Costello and his time playing with him. This was a prelude to a feud that exists to this very day, particularly since Thomas was fired in 1996.

Mighty Like a Rose is also notable for more experimentation with orchestral pop structures and as such, his vocal performances on songs like the “All Grown Up” and the stunning closer “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected #4” foreshadowing what he would do just a few years later with The Brodsky Quartet, specifically a wonderful classical/pop song cycle called The Juliet Letters.

It’s also one of his most elaborately produced records ever, recorded at Ocean Way and with frequent Costello collaborators like T Bone Burnett, T Bone Wolk, Jerry Scheff, and of course long-time and current drummer Pete Thomas showing up. Costello’s late father Ross MacManus even plays trumpet on “Invasion Hit Parade,” a politically charged song about the fall of the Soviet bloc. Some bloke from Liverpool named Paul McCartney was another frequent Costello collaborator around this time and two of the songs they co-wrote together (“So Like Candy” and “Playboy to a Man”) are here as well, the former song being one of the best that their collaboration produced.

Although somewhat popular upon release, this isn’t one of his best-regarded albums today. Perhaps it’s the shaggy beard he wore on the cover and that was prevalent in publicity videos at the time? Or perhaps it’s something else, the fact that this isn’t a band-oriented record? So what, though? That should change, as to these ears, this is yet another incredible album from an artist with an incredible catalog to draw from.

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