on September 24, 2001
Disparite aesthetics? Elvis Costello, who TWENTY YEARS AGO was an angry, clever, and vicious punk-pop genius, and Burt Bachrach who FORTY YEARS AGO was a clever, ochestral-pop genius decide that they can meet, and work together. Bachrach's gorgeous melodies and Costello's ascerbic words meld into this finely-honed collection of songs that left me reeling with admiration.
I've read a lot nonsense from people who dislike this music because they think that Elvis has lost his edge, but these people I believe are living in a past long dead. Besides, Elvis Costello has been on an upward artist trajectory for his entire career. Listen to King of America and this, and you'll see there isn't all much difference in terms of song quality. Bachrach is incomparble, and his work influnced so many others. It is still listenable. On its own terms, even if I were not a fan of both composers (it's possible, yes, without hallucingens), I would say that this is finely-crafted pop that is rich with irony, insight, and melodic invention. You can't ask for better in this vein of popular music. If snotty guitar riffs over snarls is all you want, there are plenty of lesser lights out there for you to drool over. As for me, I'll take this masterpiece.
on November 4, 1998
I bought this album and I've listened to it 15 or 20 times straight through, and it's just magical. It's beautiful, beautiful music, and today that might seem faint praise. But it's not, it's the highest praise I can offer, because the album is one beautiful song after another. Bacharach's arrangments are gorgeous, and Elvis once again proves that there is no one better at writing songs about heartbreak, jealousy, and revenge. This is one of those albums that, if you find yourself with a heavy heart, can make you feel so bad you feel good. The only real negatives I've seen or heard reported center around Costello's voice, which has been called limited, nasally, harsh, etc. Well, fiddlesticks. EC will never sing with the Three Tenors (thank God), but he does a fantastic job with these songs. Could other singers have done a better job? Maybe, but let 'em write their own songs! I'd rather hear Costello sing "What's Her Name Today?" or "God Give Me Strength" over someone who didn't actually pen the words. There's something to be said for authenticity, even though Elvis has written songs specifically for other people. He wrote them, he gets to sing them if he wants. And I think he does a fantastic job. As does Bacharach, who wraps melodies around Costello's words like a frame around a painting. You could read the words like poetry and love it, you could hear just the music and be moved. Just a great, great album.
on June 9, 2004
I've been a fan of Elvis Costello since his first album was released a good century ago. That scrawny guy with the geeky glasses, punk energy and impudent razor-sharp lyrics, the same guy, I believe, who has long been a crooner at heart. "Alison" hinted, but it wasn't until hearing his splendid rendition of "My Funny Valentine" that I realized there was more to him than rude boy songwriter. Elvis teaming up with Burt Bacharach to make beautiful music together did not surprise me. Actually, it seemed downright brilliant.
Burt Bacharach + lush, though not overwhelming, arrangements + captivating melodies + background girl singers + insightful and moving lyrics + Elvis's vocals = one exquisite musical achievement.
Elvis does not possess a flawless singing voice and that is part of its allure. His is a voice full of jagged little edges and roughhewn emotion. His ability to interpret a love song without rendering it cheesy is a gift within itself.
Personal favorites: "I Still Have That Other Girl", "God Give Me Strength", & "Tears At The Birthday Party". All in all, though, each one is a treat.
on October 4, 2000
I'll come clean...I`ve been a huge Burt Bacharach fan for as long as I can remember. (Six years old, riding in a school bus over the Triborough bridge and seeing day after day the 8-story high ad for his Broadway musical "Promises, Promises"...my favorite song at the time and getting all happy inside.) I loved his warm, yet oddly off-beat and simultaneously tuneful songs. Even throwaways like "Nikki" (His theme for the "ABC Movies of the Week") held me in sway. I loved everything he did. And as is the case with things you like a lot, they go away. I stopped hearing his music on the radio. Tastes had changed. I was changing...developing my own tastes. P-Funk. Carly Simon. EWF. The Beatles. The O'Jays. And eventually as my teens ended, Elvis Costello. Who I liked...but did not love. Maybe the early stuff I heard from him was a little Ska-heavy and didn't fire me up as much as it did other folks. But I did like a lot of his work, notably the song "Alison". (Even the cover version by Linda Ronstadt was great!) But again...it was like. Not LOVE. Flash forward 15 years. Older and now able to buy all the records a near-reasonable salary could afford. My love for Bacharach still intact like some folks need for guilty comfort foods AND a broadened appreciation for Costello's lyrics. I owned almost all of Burt's albums and maybe four of Elvis' when I heard about a song they did for the movie "Grace of My Heart" which I remembered got strong reviews but no box-office. I rent the movie and fall in love with it...forgetting about the song until the end of the film when I hear it performed by Kristen Vigard. And then after the movie ends there's a clip of Burt and Elvis doing it. "God Give Me Strength". I'm knocked on the goddamned floor. The weird yet perfect Bacharach chords and time signatures, those achy but up-front Costello lyrics. Who'd have possibly thought they could work together? Not me! And I appreciated them both! The soundtrack version I find is even better than the clip. I get the "Perfect Song" chill up my spine. (The kind you get from Aretha songs circa '67-'75) And I know why. I'm hearing an actual musical ARRANGEMENT for God's sake! The strings weave with the horns which run like a little river next to the piano which nestles atop the drums and ahh...you get the picture! A real arrangement with lyrics that mean something worth a damn! I was thrilled! And soon depressed because I knew the odds of getting more stuff like this were Callista Flockhart slim. A year later, who but a fellow sentimental goof (Thanks, TC) should surprise me with the "Painted From Memory" CD as a gift. This time, I am knocked into the goddamned basement. The murky, end of one's rope melancholy of the first track, "In The Darkest Place" sets the tone. These are songs of heartbreak, loss and wanting. Bacharach's breezy tunefulness was always shot through with a marbling of dark, unexpected emotive chords and Costello's "angry young man" persona has always worn a freshly tattooed and still bleeding heart on it's sleeve. The alleged "artifice" of Burt meets the oft-maligned "bluntness" of Elvis and the two mate like glove in hand. Burt shows (a heretofore known only to his biggest fans) depth and Elvis lets the anger go and gives you his (to some surprisingly very warm) heart. "Toledo" is the best example of this with it's slinky bossa-nova offset by it's "I'm not really crying, I've just been slicing onions" lyrics. "I Still Have That Other Girl" is a cathartic gut-spiller from a guy who knows that she knows that HE knows there's a problem with their situation. "This House Is Empty Now" speaks for itself. By song's end you want to send the police over to check on the poor guy. Track after melodious, emotional track on this album you will find something that prevents you from hitting "skip" on the CD player. From the green-eyed, devolution to child-like acting-out of "Tears at The Birthday Party" to the helpless resignation of "My Thief" the duo does the impossible; namely resurrect the spirit of the pop standard. The wonderful "God Give Me Strength" is included here but...the standout is the title selection "Painted From Memory". It is merely one of the most heart-breakingly wistful songs you will ever hear. A near perfect marriage of words, music and raw emotion, this tune makes you wish the mid-50' s Capitol Sinatra were around to sing it. But guess what? Costello does a world-class job with it. Bacaharach melodies and time-signature jumps can try even the most gifted singers. But these are Elvis' lyrics and when the music pushes his voice to the breaking point, his lyrics are there to push him too. It's an effect that only heightens the albums emotions. My advice: turn the lights down, get a good bottle of wine, pop this CD in and don't answer your phone for an hour. By the time the album ends, you'll have found something you weren't even looking for...namely the bottom of your heart.
I find this 1998 album irresistible. Burt Bacharach composed some of the best pop music in the sixties and early seventies, but when he broke up with longtime collaborator Hal David, he seemed to lose his way artistically, especially as he veered toward overproduced dreck with then-wife Carole Bayer Sager. Unfortunately his music still charted, so he had no motivation to come back to the type of pop music he does best. In fact, I thought he was exiled into a permanent retro-deification state until I heard this disc. Paired most uncharacteristically with Elvis Costello, Bacharach the composer sounds rejuvenated on this recording as if the last thirty years did not even occur. The momentous orchestra swells, the piano key tinkling, the unmistakable flugelhorns, the gossamer female background vocals and above all, the sweeping, unapologetic romanticism - they are all back in stylish, timeless form with some fresh, intricate lyrics courtesy of Costello, who sings with surprising vigor without a hint of irony or unwarranted nostalgia.
Each song is a gem. "In the Darkest Place" starts things off in a dusky mood with an intoxicating piano dictating the cocktail lounge rhythm. "Toledo" is a bouncy though more melancholy cousin to "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" with its geography-driven lyrics. "Tears at the Birthday Party" has the silliest, double-entendre lyrics this side of Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park", but it has an infectious beat and a soaring chorus that its lightheartedness provides a welcome respite. The title track is a lovely ballad driven by a piano and guitar that reminds me fondly of "Alfie" with its escalating strings and swooning notes. "The Sweetest Punch" is pop music at its catchy best with a ringing bell response to Costello's crooning of "You knock me out/It was the sweetest punch/The bell goes...". Both "This House Is Empty Now" and "What's Her Name Today?" are powerful ballads that will remind you immediately of Bacharach classics like "A House Is Not a Home", "A Message to Michael" and "One Less Bell to Answer". Regardless, the closing track, "God Give Me Strength", is the artistic high point and the initial reason why Bacharach and Costello partnered for this recording. Written for Allison Anders' 1996 faux-Carole King biopic movie, "Grace of My Heart", it was a poignant moment when the Denise Waverly character sings this ballad with such uncertain yearning and romantic fervor that the faux-Brian Wilson character could not help but be impressed enough to sign her up for his label. While I still prefer the more plaintive Kristen Vigard version (to which Ileana Douglas lip synched in the film), Costello sings with a surprising emotional wallop wrapping his voice around a full orchestra led by a mournful trumpet that provides the appropriate crescendo to this masterful recording. Strongly recommended.
Elvis Costello has long been an unabashed fan of Burt Bacharach. Be it from an early recording of "I Just Don't Know What to do With Myself" on the "Live Stiffs" album to his claim that he really wanted Dusty Springfield to record "Tiny Steps," the once angry young man secretly longed to create mini-masterpieces like "Do You Know The Way To San Jose." When he finally did get the chance to make a song happen with Bacharach, it was the Oscar and Grammy nominated stunner, "God Give Me Strength." (Which, by the way, is the best song here.) A brilliant recreation of Dionne Warwick/Dusty Springfield breathy longing, it mirrored the kind of sixties/seventies productions that pillowed Bacarach's career. It was obvious that an album was soon to follow.
"Painted From Memory" has got to be one of the most unlikeliest of four star recordings in my collection. Costello is in obvious awe of his collaborator and the compositions. His usual caustic wit is sheathed and he must place greater reliance on writing lyrics that say more with their punches pulled than with their knives out. "Were you so unhappy then? You never said" he asks on "This House is Empty Now." The Elvis of old would have likely shot off an additional barbed couplet, but instead, he lets it dangle with juicy heartache. His singing is at its best since "Trust." Never a man of astonishing vocal range, Costello let's it all hang out here. The pristine orchestrations and arrangements are also highly complimentary to the songs, pretty much nudging Elvis to deliver more nuanced performances without sounding campy or cliched. Given Bacharach's long history of flourish and sweeps, the two make near a perfect foil for each other.
And song after song is flawless. Probably more than any albums since "Brutal Youth" or "The Juliet Letters," these songs Elvis composed with Bacharach are worthy of an entire album's worth of listening. I doubt if even he thought the man writing "My Aim Is True" or "This Year's Model" would ever sit at a table and created something as forlorn as "In My Darkest Place" without a hint of rancor. He's not angry anymore, but he still knows how to pack a wallop. And even better, Bacharach knew how to cushion them.
While I love both Elvis and Burt I wasnt sure I'd like them together. I needn't have worried. There is great stuff on here. Great lyrics, singing, music, production. I cant praise this enough. Not a clunker on here. Is there more on the way? Hope so. If not, enjoy this for what it is. A wonderful collaboration between 2 musical artists.
on January 14, 2000
I bought this CD last November and it has found its way into my CD player virtually every day. There are many reviews for this album, good and bad, but those who love this album REALLY love it. There is something about the songs, both in the lyrical content and the arrangements that really does something to those like me who savor every lyric and note of this album. I listen to the opening of "In the Darkest Place" and I am drawn in. When Elvis sings "pretty girls look right through me, they don't sense the faintest glimmering that is the torch I bear-" you are consumed by these lyrics if you are anyone who has ever been through a bad breakup and doesn't think anyone understands. "Tears at the Birthday Party" captures the feelings of anyone who has ever been passed over for another person, and "This House is Empty Now" may be one of the most heartbreaking songs I have heard, but so beautiful, and so hard to turn away from. This album is not for everyone, but I recommend it to anyone who has an open mind. I would have never purchased anything by Bacharach in the past, and bought this based on my love of the music of Elvis Costello. But Burt has brought something out of EC that I have never heard before, and I thank him for that, and for this wonderful music.
on November 1, 2004
A lot of people don't like this CD. but remember this, Elvis Costello does not do things to make his fans happy.. it is my opinion that elvis does things that interest HIM.. that make him grow as a musician. I personally like the adventure.
It is true, as those who detract point out, that some of his CD's don't sound nothing like each other. That can either be a beauty of his releases or the curse.. depending on what you are in for as a listener.
Frank Zappa used to treat his fans the same way. He would release a rock record, then a musical (Thing Fish) then release material he wrote for the London Symphony Orchestra... FZ did what he liked, recorded for the sake of MUSIC.
This recording of moody, soulful, old school crooner like music, is very good to listen to. It is done perfectly. I am not really a big fan of non rock music .. but music that is written well translates to any genre.
This is one of those recordings, have fun listening.
on July 2, 2005
Honestly, I never gush over an album, but this one deserves it! The combined genius of Bacharach and Costello aside, this album is wonderful because there isn't a mediocre song in the bunch. We all know what it's like to have a cd where we love 10 out of the 12 songs (or whatever - probably not usually even that high of a percentage), and yet we are forced to skip over those 2 annoying songs or suffer through listening to them. That doesn't happen with this gem of an album. It's great all the way through. And it is so thought-provoking and entertaining.
Whether you like Bacharach or Costello or both (bonus!), you will appreciate and enjoy this collaboration. I am a fan of Costello, but I must admit that he's a hit-or-miss kind of songwriter. With Bacharach solidly writing the tunes, Costello shines like I haven't heard him in years!
The greatest thing about this album is that it is unobtrusive. You can listen to it in the background for hours, and there are no loud or out-of-place instruments which will alarm you. Yet, if you want to sit down and concentrate on the album word for word, song by song, you will not be bored. It is that satisfying!