Article about EC
Jam! 1998-10-02
- Jane Stevenson

by Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun

Have you noticed an alarming trend lately among some of the best pop music
songwriters of the 20th century?

 As middle age settles in, they're all taking the plunge into more so-called
"serious" endeavours. Often with mixed results.

 Paul McCartney wrote a symphony. So far, not so bad.

 Paul Simon tackled a Broadway musical. Can you say "closed early?"

 Joe Jackson went horribly melodramatic, choral, symphonic and otherwise on
his latest album, Heaven & Hell. (Only a half-accurate title as far as I'm

 And now Billy Joel is threatening to write only classical music. Need I say

 So, I guess it was only a matter of time before Elvis Costello took the
same journey into similar murky waters, judging from his just-released 18th
album, Painted From Memory: The New Songs Of Bacharach & Costello. (An
aside, but were there old songs?)

 I just wish Costello had gone "middle-of-the-road pop," as Burt Bacharach
just described himself to USA Today, later rather than sooner.

 I say this because of all the songwriters I just listed above, Costello is
probably my favourite. Jackson is a close second.

 Even Costello's last album, 1996's All This Useless Beauty, which didn't
sell all that well, was one of the best of that year's releases as far as I
was concerned.

 So imagine the shock of hearing the once "angry young man" who brought us
the 1977 new wave classic album, My Aim Is True, attempting to warble tunes
written together with Bacharach, who is certainly no slouch in the
songwriting department either.

 Bacharach, the easy listening kingpin best known for composing endless hits
for Dionne Warwick to sing in the '60s, including Walk On By, I Say A Little
Prayer and Do You Know The Way To San Jose, is currently enjoying a
resurgence in popularity.

 You may recall his hilarious cameo, playing the piano aboard a moving
vehicle in Austin Powers or the amusing rendering of I Say A Little Prayer
by the cast of My Best Friend's Wedding.

 Still to come is a three-CD box set, The Look Of Love: The Burt Bacharach
Collection and Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night, a recording of a recent
tribute concert featuring Costello, Warwick, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds
Five, Chrissie Hynde, Luther Vandross and Wynonna.

 This leads us back to the problem with the Costello-Bacharach
collaboration, which grew out of their 1997 Grammy-nominated song, God Give
Me Strength, from the movie Grace Of My Heart.

 These two can write songs together, but Costello simply doesn't have the
pipes to carry them off.

 His father, Ross McManus, was a singer with an orchestra in his day, but as
you listen to Painted From Memory, it becomes painfully obvious that gene
doesn't run in the family. I actually found myself longing to hear Warwick,
late of the Psychic Friends Network.

 And just in case you think I'm being too hard on Costello, I decided to
give him, Bacharach and a string section another chance as they performed on
David Letterman this week, but it still wasn't happening musically.

 The two songwriters are taking their act on the road to three U.S. cities
this month, so audiences will soon find out that sad fact for themselves.