Song of the Day #248: ‘Mouth Almighty’ – Elvis Costello

punchclockPunch the Clock is the first Elvis Costello album that feels like a step back. As a followup to Imperial Bedroom, this collection of mostly lightweight pop songs was rather anticlimactic.

Most confounding is the production, polished and packaged, complete with girl-group backing vocals. Whether this was Costello’s direction or a record label suggestion, I don’t know, but it feels wrong.

That said, the album does contain some great songwriting. ‘Shipbuilding’ is one of Elvis’ most gorgeous ballads, ‘Pills and Soap’ is an offbeat trippy treat and hit single ‘Everyday I Write the Book’ is an unabashed delight that benefits from the glossy production.

‘Mouth Almighty’ is a neat little tune about a broken-hearted man who shot his mouth off and screwed things up with his woman. It’s an ancestor to John Mayer’s similarly themed ‘My Stupid Mouth’ (find three more like this and I’ve got myself another theme week).

The final verse is a lovely example of what a poet Costello can be, even in a throwaway pop song. The rose/thorn line is provocative, the alliteration in the “crooner cufflinks” line is fabulous, and I love the final image of this immaculately presented man who is utterly alone in the world.

This town belongs to you and your tricks of confidence
All the pavements for miles around are littered with your footprints
Now every girl I get close to seems to be wearing your perfume
And the clock strikes the letters of your name
Both midnight and noon

But I used to shoot my mouth off
Till you’d had enough of me
Once or twice nightly
I know I’ve got my faults
And among them I CAN’T CONTROL MY TONGUE
But if you didn’t believe me
Why did you have to leave me
With my mouth almighty

Mouth almighty that’s what I’ve got
Mouth almighty telling you what’s what
Mouth almighty
I wish I’d never opened my mouth almighty

SO I THREW AWAY THE ROSE AND HELD ONTO THE THORN
Crawling round with my crooner cufflinks and my calling card cologne
But the realization of being replaced starts to tell tales across my face
Without a soul to talk to or a hair out of place

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #248: ‘Mouth Almighty’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Well, while this album (or really any album) could be viewed as a step back from Imperial Bedroom, I wholly reject the implication that this album is a disappointment or “wrong.” I truly love this album. I have always been a sucker for great production and this album has it in spades. It shows off the brilliance of Nieve’s piano, the tightness of the band, and contains some of Elvis’ best songs, including Everyday I Write the Book and Shipbuilding.

    I’m not sure if your selection today was meant to illustrate a weakness in what you consider to be a weaker album, but I so wish you had featured the brilliant Shipbuilding. It deserves to be featured, as it is one of Costello’s best songs.

    In his show Spactacle, Elvis said that, sometimes, he found himself making a particular kind of record because it was what was expected of him by fans. he would make the record so he could essentially move past it. I suspect that this record may have been an example of what he was talking about, but, like most of what Elvis does, whether he dabbles in country, standards…whatever, he does it better than anyone.

    So, while this record is clearly pop and meant to be that way, it is still great and still contains some incredible songs and others that are just really darn fun to listen to.

  2. Clay says:

    I agree. And I didn’t pick this song to illustrate a weakness… I love this song.

    I did look for ‘Shipbuilding’ and even tried to upload a version myself, but YouTube (Warner Brothers, actually) wouldn’t have it.

  3. Amy says:

    I just realized I’ve probably never heard this album. The songs I know (and love) from it are “Everyday I Write the Book,” “Shipbuilding,” and “Pills and Soap,” and, at the very least, the first two of them are on his Greatest HIts album. So today’s song was a first for me. I like it, so I wouldn’t classify it as a weakness, but it certainly didn’t immediately grab me. Of course, when we played “Beyond Belief” for Andie last night, she responded with an “eh – I don’t see what’s so special about it.” Madness, I know. And it makes me want to listen to this one a few more times before deciding what I think of it.

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