Elvis Costello / Burt Bacharach - The Songs of Bacharach & Costello (Super Deluxe) Music Album Reviews

Elvis Costello / Burt Bacharach - The Songs of Bacharach & Costello (Super Deluxe) Music Album Reviews
Centered on 1998’s timeless Painted From Memory, this new compilation showcases the songwriters’ unlikely collaboration and the malleable and enduring songs that emerged from it.

Burt Bacharach’s songs are deft studies in light and dark, order and chaos, major-key optimism and minor-key doubt. The lyrics to songs like “Walk on By,” “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” “Trains and Boats and Planes,” and so many others convey messy, overwhelming emotions, while the music itself sounds exquisitely and exactingly crafted. Each element heightens the other to make the song more relatable and somehow even more pleasurable to anyone who has a heart. On “Tears at the Birthday Party,” which Bacharach co-wrote with Elvis Costello for their 1998 album Painted From Memory, the contrast between happy and sad is almost cartoonish: “I see you share your cake with him, unwrapping presents that I should have sent,” Costello sings, knowing he can’t watch but can’t look away either. What might have been maudlin becomes witty, even winking, thanks to Bacharach’s casually swinging arrangement, which is both sympathetic and sugary.

Bacharach and Costello were exceptionally well matched, each bringing something barely glimpsed in the other to the surface. Costello has collaborated intimately with the Brodsky Quartet, the Roots, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Allen Toussaint, but few challenged him quite as much as Bacharach. In return, he gives Bacharach some of his darkest sentiments to score, exceedingly bleak scenarios with titles like “In the Darkest Place” and “The Sweetest Punch.” They’re never quite as bitter as Costello’s notoriously sour love songs on 1979’s Armed Forces, but they still need Bacharach’s light touch. That contrast enlivens The Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, which puts Painted From Memory on vinyl along with subsequent collaborations, live cuts, and covers Costello recorded in the ’70s and ’80s.

They wrote their first song together via fax machine. In the mid 1990s, Costello sent Bacharach ideas for a song called “God Give Me Strength,” and Bacharach responded by sharpening a few lines and adding a new bridge, which turned out to be the missing piece. The finished composition first appeared on the 1996 soundtrack to Grace of My Heart, Allison Anders’ film based loosely on the career of Carole King. All the elements that would define their collaborative album were already present in the song: the strings and flugelhorns, the elegant expression of inelegant feelings. It opens as a conventional breakup song, with Costello lamenting the loss of a lover and begging God for the ability to “wipe her from my memory.” But the bridge reveals a darker facet to his predicament: “See, I’m only human,” he sings, attempting to exonerate himself for what comes next: “I want him to hurt.” It’s the first he’s mentioned another man, the third piece in this love triangle, and when Costello returns to the song’s prayerful refrain, it’s with a new recognition of the depths he has sunk and of the violent thoughts he now harbors in her absence.

Both the film and the soundtrack were busts, but the pair decided to continue their collaboration. Over the next few years they met frequently at Bacharach’s studio in Santa Monica, after which Costello would take the music back to Dublin looking for lyrical inspiration. While Costello was enduring a creatively and commercial fallow period, Bacharach was experiencing something akin to a renaissance in the mid to late 1990s, as a new generation of artists—and, notably, one international man of mystery—hailed him as a hero. He was a handy touchstone when Gen Xers were hosting lounge parties and blaring Combustible Edison CDs over martinis, but he was a wholly unironic influence on a new wave of indie rock crooners and chamber pop auteurs like the Pernice Brothers, American Music Club, Jim O’Rourke, and the Divine Comedy. In addition to dominating the soundtrack to 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding (and finding a surprisingly deft interpreter in Ani DiFranco), he had a cameo in one of the biggest hits of that year, serenading Austin Powers on top of a double-decker bus rolling through Vegas.

To their credit, neither Bacharach nor Costello seems the least bit interested in re-creating the sound of the ’60s on Painted From Memory. They settle into the songs with an understanding that this style of pop music doesn’t have to be anchored to any one particular time or place. Especially during a decade defined by irony and distance, these songs are miraculously unself-conscious, even with their great orchestral swell and flugelhorn fanfares. Bacharach’s arrangements have an ease to them: Nothing is forced, everything is orderly, and every next note has already been foretold by the last one. Put that sensibility with a singer like Dusty Springfield or Dionne Warwick, and you’ll get some of the most durable and sophisticated pop songs imaginable.

Put that sensibility with a singer like Costello, however, and you’ll get something very different. His voice is ragged, and his performances emphasize the work he’s putting into each phrase. You can hear him muster up his courage to ascend into a falsetto on “God Give Me Strength,” as though he senses a trap Bacharach has laid for him. And you can hear him laboring to control the drama of “What’s Her Name Today.” He probably wouldn’t argue with that criticism, if it even counts as criticism. He never backs down from the more demanding passages in these songs, and he even makes the strain in what he calls his “reckless and daredevil approach” sound intentional, which adds new dimensions to the self-deluding “I Still Have That Other Girl” and the beautifully delicate title track.

Costello isn’t the only voice on these songs. He’s joined by a chorus of women singing backup and adding commentary to cut his testimony. On “My Thief,” the music quietens so that Lisa Taylor can tell him to leave the room while she dresses, a small moment of domestic drama. A year after the release of Painted From Memory, these same songs were rearranged by the guitarist Bill Frisell, who recast them with different vocalists on The Sweetest Punch. On one of the finer reimaginings, Cassandra Wilson locates a very different set of stakes in “Painted From Memory,” her voice all smoke and sorrow as she makes microscopic adjustments to her delivery until she has to steel herself to deliver the last note.

There’s a showtune quality to Bacharach and Costello’s songs, which has less to do with the sound of the music and more to do with the monologue quality of the lyrics. Each one sounds like someone delivering testimony to an audience, explaining in meter and melody their motivations and regrets. In fact, the duo worked with Chuck Lorre (yes, the Big Bang Theory guy) to turn Painted From Memory into a stage production, even devising a story about a painter in love with his model. Despite their years of effort, it never came to pass, so we’re left with the live versions included in The Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, which bring out new angles on these new compositions and even older ones. There’s a great moment when Costello sings the first lines of “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” a hit for Warwick in 1969 that apparently still registered as cheesy in the late 1990s. “What do you get when you fall in love?” he asks, prompting chuckles from the audience, but he barrels along with no wink or nudge, absolutely sincere in his performance, until the laughter turns into applause.

That’s part of the joy of this box set: It shows just how durable these songs are, precisely because they’re so malleable, so open to whatever Costello or Wilson or you might bring to them. A different singer or a different listener brings a different set of concerns to them, which bring different implications to the surface. Bacharach was a songwriter as playwright, penning the scripts for other artists to act out, and his death just weeks before this set’s release could have cast a pall over the proceeding. It ought to disturb that balance between the light and the dark, making the unruly feelings even unrulier without making the sweet parts sweeter. But the effect, ultimately, is just the opposite. Especially with Costello recounting their yearslong collaboration in his detailed liner notes—and ending with his wish for more hours with his friend—The Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach sounds like a heartfelt eulogy to an artist who helped pop fans find great beauty and even greater solace in all those lonely, uncertain moments.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Elvis Costello / Burt Bacharach - The Songs of Bacharach & Costello (Super Deluxe) Music Album Reviews Elvis Costello / Burt Bacharach - The Songs of Bacharach & Costello (Super Deluxe) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 14, 2023 Rating: 5


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