On May 13, 1991, Elvis Costello released his 13th studio album, an LP which found him offering up a few more songwriting collaborations with a certain ex-Beatle as well as a cover image that found him managing to sport even more facial hair than he did for King of America.
Co-produced by Costello, Mitchell Froom, and Kevin Killen, Mighty Like a Rose was released at a time when our man Elvis was growing weary of his pseudonym, a situation which led him to decide that he wanted to release the album under his actual name: Declan MacManus. You can imagine how well that concept went over ‘round Warner Brothers way, what with the importance of brand recognition and all that, and while we don’t know what the folks at the label said to sway him, we do know - as do you if you’ve seen the cover - that they successfully talked him into sticking with the status quo and releasing it as an Elvis Costello album.
Of course, to look at him, it seems that he was still actively trying to conceal his identity - just look at the size of that beard, for heaven’s sake! - but it was all for naught: within a few short years, he’d be outed by 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy as...Declan MacManus, International Art Thief!
But we digress.
Mighty Like a Rose kicks off with one of the catchiest, bounciest pop songs in the Costello canon: “The Other Side of Summer,” a track which provided Elvis with a No. 1 modern rock hit as well as a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s album rock tracks chart. There’s a lot going on in the song: in the liner notes for the deluxe edition of the album (now sadly out of print), it was revealed that Elvis attempted to get some equivalent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production on the track by featuring two basses, two guitars, and a plethora of keyboards.
How much is a plethora in this instance? Well, per Elvis’s remarks in a Creem interview at the time, “There are 14 keyboards on ‘The Other Side of Summer,’ all playing the same thing, but nobody’s going to sit and count them.”
Are you gonna let Elvis judge you like that?! You go right ahead and count ‘em! That’ll show him...
As noted, the album also featured two further tunes that emerged from Elvis’s songwriting sessions with Paul McCartney: “So Like Candy,” which was released as a single, and “Playboy to a Man.” Even this, however, wouldn’t be the last of the duo’s collaborations to land on one of Elvis’ albums: five years later - almost to the day - would see him releasing “Shallow Grave” on All This Useless Beauty, his reunion album with The Attractions.
In retrospect, Elvis referred to Mighty Like a Rose as an angry record, explaining that it was recorded in the wake of the Gulf War, which - to be fair - made rather a lot of people angry. He’s not wrong, though: there are some pretty angry songs contained within its grooves, most notably “Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over),” although with a title like that, you probably could’ve guessed that he wasn’t exactly cheery at the time. Still, the album does quietly offer a very sweet moment within “Invasion Hit Parade,” even if you have to look at the credits to realize it: the song features a trumpet solo by Elvis’s dad, Ross MacManus...and on that note, we’ll close with a performance which confirms that Ross was pretty damned cool long before his son ever hit the big time.