Punch 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.
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
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