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Deluxe version of 1991's underrated album.
on 18 February 2003
Reading the chapter on Costello in Nick Kent's The Dark Stuff, he certainly comes across as a bitter old man towards the end- griping against Happy Mondays & espousing classical music. Mighty Like a Rose was the album that best summed up this period categorised as "The Beard Years"- which saw Costello become an imposing Rasputin lookalike, scaring my mother when he appeared on Alan Bleasdale's This is Your Life (he scored GBH around this period). Mighty Like a Rose was largely written off, along with THe Juliet Letters & Kojak Variety it left people cold- Costello fans would generally not be appeased till 1994's Attractions-comeback Brutal Youth.
This I think is a shame, as Mighty Like a Rose extends on territory mapped out on previous albums Imperial Bedroom (1982) & Spike (1989). The first disc here collects the 14 songs that made up Mighty Like a Rose- & I don't think there's a dud in there. All Grown Up sounds like Richard Thompson singing a lost Lennon/McCartney song, while McCartney- who co-wrote Veronica & My Brave Face with Costello- is McCartney to Costello's Lennon on So Like Candy.
Costello is not a happy bunny here- Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over) sounds like a fusion of Plastic Ono-Lennon, Franz Kafka & the kind of industrial noises co-producer Mitchell Froom would produce on Suzanne Vega's 99 F. The Other Side of Summer sounds like a hit single that never was- easily up there with anything from Armed Forces (and showcasing Brian Wilson-style aspirations). Invasion Hit Parade sounds like a bleak relative of Beyond Belief, prior to harsh guitar inflected sounds & a killer chorus- the riffs are definitely related to the desperate pulse of 86's Uncomplicated.
One of the best songs here is How to Be Dumb, which is bitter & beautiful as so much of EC's back catalogue; gorgeous music tempered by lyrics such as "beautiful people stampede to the doorway of the funniest fu*ker in the world" or "they emptied out all obvious items" or "you could have walked out anytime you wanted but they said you didn't have any courage...funny those people don't usually get so ugly till they think they know what they want...roll over on your back, repeat after me: don't you know how to be dumb?"- a definite themetune for the cultural shell of the UK, following the abortion that was Cool Britannia (the fact that EC appeared in Spice World only makes this song greater!). This reminds me of Dennis Potter's final interview (see Faber's Seeing the Blossom), where Potter asks if The Sun is really what this country is. How did standards fall so low?, still- shut up/don't moan/we're earning lots of money/700 channels with nothing on/ celebrity scratches supercede starvation & atrocities. Don't we know how to be dumb? One of the great Costello songs of protest- alongside Tramp the Dirt Down, Shipbuilding, Pills & Soap and Beyond Belief. And it's got a great bridge, for people who care about such things- perhaps Pop Idol-types or goons like The Music ought to listen here to get some ideas? Up there with Kevin Rowland's One of These Things: where "they all sounded the same" now "they know how to be dumb". Get on the bus...
The other key song here is Couldn't Call it Unexpected#4- a maudlin waltz equal to Mark Eiztel's Sacred Heart- Costello's phrasing is gorgeous, heartbreaking & disturbing: "well you can laugh at this sentimental story/but in time you'll have to make amends...but I'm the lucky fool who composed this tune...who on earth is tapping at the window?...I saw you shiver though the room was like a furnace...please don't let me be anything I cannot explain/I can't believe I'll never believe in anything again"- this song has supplanted Riot Act, I Want You, I'll Wear It Proudly & New Amsterdam as my favourite Costello song: a genius song...
The second disc offers various demos, out-takes & alternate versions of this era- highlights include It Started to Come to Me, a version of Spike's Deep Dark Truthful Mirror & Put Your Toe in the Milk of Human Kindness (will Costello's unplugged & Tasmin Archer works from the early 90s be issued on these Rhino collections?).
Mighty Like a Rose stands next to Brutal Youth & All This Useless Beauty as a highlight of Costello's 1990s & has plenty to offer to people who may have missed out first time round. An underrated classic...