It has been 14 years since Elvis Costello’s first record, and by now, you’d figure he’d be mellowing. Instead, as his first album in two years demonstrates, the angry young man has become the angry middle-aged man.
Which is exactly what you want from Costello: memorable pop tunes with the sort of bad attitude that gets kids kicked out of school. What cynic can resist an album with such titles as “How to Be Dumb” and “Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over),” two of the nastiest songs Costello has ever spit out?
Musically, Mighty Like a Rose, which uses such composing talent as Paul McCartney and such performers as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, is every bit as well-crafted and diverse as Costello’s 1989 album, Spike. Lyrically, it seems more rancorous. As is his custom, however, Costello gives each bitter lyrical pill a tasty sugarcoating.
From the Beach Boy-esque hook of “The Other Side of Summer” to the ghostly dirge of “So Like Candy” to the Tom Waits—like primal stomp of “Hurry Down Doomsday,” he continues to write memorable melodies that make it easier to swallow words like “Are you ready to take your place/In the modern museum of mistakes?”
But just when you get the urge to buy the guy a beer and tell him things will be okay, he slows the album down with two odes to true love—”Sweet Pear” and “Broken” (written by wife Cait O’Riordan). As good as the rest of Mighty Like a Rose is, these are the tunes that really strike you.