Song of the Day #3,903: ‘Harpies Bizarre’ – Elvis Costello

My #4 album of 1991 is the mostly mediocre Elvis Costello release, Mighty Like a Rose.

Ranking this one was tough. I had to balance the warm bath of nostalgia with the sobering effects of time, then sprinkle in a dash of ‘one amazing song lifting up a whole album.’ Given all that, fourth place feels about right.

This was the first new Costello release I bought after becoming a superfan. I had purchased and enjoyed 1989’s Spike before I discovered his earlier work, but by 1991 I had devoured obsessed over every one of his albums.

So Mighty Like a Rose will always hold a special place in my heart because of its timing. And at the time, I thought it was brilliant pretty much from start to finish. In the years since I have grown weary of half of its songs (too loud, too precious, too goofily overproduced) but I still find a lot to like, including today’s SOTD.

And most important, this album contains one of my very favorite Costello songs, the final track, ‘Couldn’t Call It Unexpected, No. 4.’ The presence of that track alone places this album in my top five for the year.

[Verse 1]
He selects the plainest face form a spiteful row of girls
Elegant insulted women, a flaw of cultured pearls
He drops a name or two, she fails to catch
At last he’s met his match
Unspoiled and unaffected, he wants her so much
She puts up half-heated resistance, like she was taught to do
She’s heard some of those small town playboys but this is
Something new
His promise seems dangerous, she’d like to believe
He says “You’d better leave”
“You’ve only got yourself to blame, shame, or deceive”

The waiting lines are long
They never get too far
Everyone wearing that medal with pride
Harpies Bizarre

[Verse 2]
I looked on but hesitated
I failed to interrupt
You’re so hard to tell the truth to
So easy to corrupt
I’ll memorize your face
Your tragic smile
The hurt look in your eyes
As you betrayed yourself to the part of him that dies

The waiting lines are long
They never get too far
They’re shining up their shoes to kick a falling star
You think you should be somebody
But you don’t know who you are
Everyone wearing that medal with pride
Harpies Bizarre

Harpies Bizarre

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,903: ‘Harpies Bizarre’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Though I’m not sure I knew it at the time, this would be the first of many EC albums that I liked but didn’t love and absorb cover to cover. That is not to say that the album doesn’t contain some great songs or that future albums weren’t even better than this one. I just think this was around the time that my time commitment and passion for music generally began to ebb from its high water mark of my high school and college years.

    By the way, if you go back to your post of “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected,” you’ll find the track you laboriously posted to get around YouTube no longer works. The good news is, in the 10 years (!) since that post, you no longer need to upload files.😊

  2. Adam Lane says:

    Mostly mediocre? Naw. At least half the songs are wonderful. Loved this album at the time. Still love it.

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