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An Unwanted Birthday
That Fatal Mailing List #105: "The Other Side of Summer" (1991)
Like many a clever phrase in an Elvis Costello song, “The Other Side of Summer” carries a few meanings. On August 25, EC’s birthday, we’re decidedly on the other side of summer here in the US; the kids are back at school, the neighborhood pool is closing soon, and the humid heat is just something else to resent as your glasses fog on the way from the house to the car. Summer officially ends in late September and unofficially ends on Labor Day, but it’s all over long before that.
The lyrics illustrate another approach to the phrase–everything you cherish about a season of warmth, freedom and youth has a dark counterpoint lingering just out of focus. Nothing is met with unmarked optimism or appreciation; “there’s malice and there’s magic in every season.” Poisonous surf, burning houses, hills of astroturf–there’s nothing beautiful that we haven’t ruined.
On Mighty Like A Rose, Costello embraced a kitchen-sink sound that is a natural progression from the genre hopping on 1989’s Spike. “The Other Side of Summer” is as close to Phil Spector as EC has ever gotten, as he himself admitted in the liner notes for the Mighty Like a Rose reissue:
The track was cut in the vast Studio One at Ocean Way, Hollywood, where most of this record was recorded. It features our own version of the "Wall of Sound": drums, two basses, two guitars, and four keyboard players (including my own efforts on electric and toy pianos). When this proved insufficiently powerful, we simply double-tracked the entire rhythm section before adding the glockenspiel, castanets, sleigh bells, and the vocal parts.
Those “vocal parts” are classic west coast Beach Boys homage, which only underscores the irony of “The Other Side of Summer,” recorded as a pastiche of optimistic pop homage but curdled by reality like a cold beer left out all day in the sun.
Listen to the tune on the streaming service of your choice.