Song of the Day #3,762: ‘Under Lime’ – Elvis Costello

Wonder of wonders, the musical gods have graced us with a new Elvis Costello album, his first proper release since 2010’s National Ransom. He did drop 2013’s Wise Up Ghost alongside The Roots, but that collection of reworked tracks hardly counts as new material.

But this album, Look Now, is a dive back into the deep, lovely waters of classic Costello. It contains shades of his masterpiece Imperial Bedroom as well as underrated 90s gems Mighty Like a Rose and Brutal Youth. It also owes more than a little to Painted From Memory, his 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach, and indeed Bacharach co-wrote three of its songs.

There’s so much to unpack here that I’ve decided to do one of my rare track-by-track appreciations of the album. My last one was a year and a half ago, when I looked at Tift Merritt’s Stitch of the World. That’s fitting, given that I first discovered Merritt when she opened for Costello at a concert I attended in Miami.

Over the next 12 days (including the coming weekend) I’ll offer my opinion of each of Look Now‘s tracks. I’d love to hear yours as well.

The album kicks off with one of its most ambitious songs, ‘Under Lime.’ This five-and-a-half minute epic tells the tale of an aging showbiz veteran taking advantage of a young production assistant. It has some creepy Brett Kavanaugh vibes.

The man in this song, Jimmie, appears to be the same character in ‘Jimmie Standing in the Rain,‘ a standout track from National Ransom. Apparently Costello has taken a stab at several stage musicals over the years, and I wonder if the deeply flawed Jimmie is a character from one of those.

Musically, ‘Under Lime’ is a beast. It took me a few listens to finally get it, but now it’s one of my favorites on the album. It’s a tempo-shifting whirlwind, jam-packed with instrumentation, the horn breaks reminiscent of The Beatles as well as Costello’s own Imperial Bedroom.

Along with the album’s title, Look Now, ‘Under Lime’ serves as a brazen reminder that the 64-year-old Costello still has some tricks up his sleeve.

It’s a long way down from the high horse you’re on
When you stumble and then you’re thrown
And the last time we saw him he was out in the rain
Watching the train roll down the track
Now he’s back in showbiz, trying to make a comeback

We know that he’s desperate and we know that he’s broke
He’s the mystery guest we’ll puncture
They told the young girl with the clipboard, “Just keep him amused”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell him your name”
“Whatever you think, don’t let him drink”
Under lime
Under lime
Under lime

He whistles out of tune
His words don’t always rhyme
But we will be right back
We’re almost out of time

Down a long corridor, he’s trying to impress
He was helping a showgirl fasten up her dress
Then the clock on the wall tick-tocked the time away
When the band starts to play

In the violent strip of an undressing room
She loosened his grip and started
“Tell me your story, if you feel so inclined”
He was a mess, almost resigned
Though she could guess, I think you will find
She thought, “Oh, you know, I wouldn’t mind”
He asked her boyfriend’s name, then her whole family tree
She thought, “I can’t believe, it’s happening to me”

And upset, said, “Hey, pet,
Would you kindly pass that pill”
And allow me to just dictate my dying will
And the clock on the wall tick-tocked the time away
And the band starts to play

Jimmie is dreaming as she uncrossed her legs
He shuttered his eyes discreetly
And he thought of the drummer and considered his snare
But the beat of his heart said, “Don’t even start”
His conscience was bare. It said, “Hey, don’t even dare”
She’s completely unaware

She forced a laugh or a sigh at every alibi
Once every crime was confessed he buttoned up his vest
Said, “Hey gal, you’re a pal
You’ve really been a sport
And you don’t get a record if you never get caught”
And the clock on the wall tick-tocked the time away
And the band starts to play

It’s a long way down from that high horse you’re on
It’s a long way back as you cover your track
Or you bury your crime
Under lime
Under lime
Under lime
Under lime

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,762: ‘Under Lime’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Very happy that you are featuring this album. I agree that it is the best record he has put out in years.i also agree that “Under Lime” took a bit of time to get used to, but that is often true with the best music.

    Looking forward to the next 12 days!

  2. Amy says:

    That would be one hell of a dark musical. ;). I’ve only heard parts of the album a couple of times while driving with it in the background of conversation. I like what I heard but have not begun to get a full appreciation of the songs, so, I, too, will enjoy this deep dive.

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