Song of the Day #919: ‘The Other Side of Summer’ – Elvis Costello

It seems like I just started the Elvis Costello Weekends. I can’t believe I’ve already arrived at Mighty Like a Rose, his 1991 follow-up to Spike.

I consider this album the bridge between Costello’s classic years and the more wide-ranging experimental work he did later in his career. And I guess the real surprise is that this album is now nearly 20 years old, and he’s recorded more albums since its release than he did beforehand.

It’s not the Elvis Costello Weekends that are moving quickly… it’s my whole life!

I count this album as one of Costello’s few disappointments. He seems to be more concerned with production than songcraft on these tracks, playing up the Beatles and Beach Boys touches and doing more with percussion than he had on his previous twelve records.

The best song on Mighty Like a Rose towers above everything else on it. ‘Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4’ is one of my favorite Costello tunes ever, but I can’t feature it today because I’ve done so already on the blog. The album is worth owning for that song alone.

Today’s selection is the opening track, ‘The Other Side of Summer,’ on which those Beach Boys touches are extremely obvious. I remember keeping MTV on in the background for days when this album first came out hoping to catch the video for this song. I did one or two times, and was treated to the sight of Costello almost double his usual size and wearing a comically thick beard.

The sun struggles up another beautiful day
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way
Despite the contradiction and confusion
Felt tragic without reason
There’s malice and there’s magic in every season

Chorus

From the foaming breakers of the poisonous surf
The other side of Summer
To the burning forests in the hills of Astroturf
The other side of Summer
The automatic gates close up between the shanties and the palace
The blowtorch amusements, the voodoo chalice
The pale pathetic promises that everybody swallows
A teenage girl is crying ‘cos she don’t look like a million dollars
So help her if you can
‘Cos she don’t seem to have the attention span

Chorus

Was it a millionaire who said “imagine no possessions”?
A poor little schoolboy who said “we don’t need no lessons”?
The rabid rebel dogs ransack the shampoo shop
The pop princess is downtown shooting up
And if that goddess is fit for burning
The sun will struggle up the world will still keep turning
Madman standing by the side of the road saying
“Look at my eyes, look at my eyes, look at my eyes, look at my eyes”
Now you can’t afford to fake all the drugs your parents used to take
Because of their mistakes you’d better be wide awake

Chorus

The mightiest rose
The absence of perfume
The casual killers
The military curfew
The cardboard city
An unwanted birthday
The other side of summer
The dancing was desperate, the music was worse
They bury your dreams and dig up the worthless
Goodnight
God bless
And kiss “goodbye” to the earth

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #919: ‘The Other Side of Summer’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Amy says:

    Love your observation that it’s not the weekends, but your life, that are speeding by. So true! It does feel like just a few years ago that you and Dana bought this album. I would have sworn it was a relatively recent release. Just crazy.

    As I said on the post for the song you love from this album, this whole album has missed me entirely. I never listened to it other than a few times here or there in the car. So this is all new to me. I kind of dig the Beach Boys production sound, but I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice what is best about Costello for such flourishes.

  2. Dana says:

    You believe he became experimental after this album? Seems to me that the man who went from Imperial Bedroom to King of America proved his experimentation long before this record. In fact, with the notable exception of the Juliet Letters, I’m not sure he has really been all that experimental in the past 20 years.

    Anyway, I agree that this album is not amongst the best, though I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a disappointment either. In addition to the wonderful “Couldn’t Call it….” I’ve always been fond of “So Like Candy.”

    As for today’s song, it always seemed to me that EC was trying a bit to hard to have a single or hit with this one, though I still kinda dig it.

  3. Clay says:

    He’d certainly explored different styles before this album, but within the same basic Costello-ian framework. In later years he’d write ballet scores, chamber music, operettas, torch albums, all sorts of weird tangents.

  4. Dana says:

    Yeah, I guess I didn’t pay much attention to the ballet scores, chamber music, operettas

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