- Corey Levitan
Elvis Costello Discusses Burt Bacharach And Painted From Memory
It's what the world needs now -- at least according to Elvis Costello. The former modern rocker doesn't see why everybody shouldn't dig Painted from Memory, the new album he's written with piano balladeer Burt Bacharach.
"Anybody that likes music can listen to it," he says of the album, due Sept. 29 on Costello's new label, Mercury Records. Costello insists that the grey-haired composer responsible for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" deserves a serious "hip" replacement.
"I don't think he sees his music as easy-listening or elevator music," the bespectacled singer says. "He sees his music, correctly so, as tremendously adventurous. And it's just straight-out stupidity that anyone would have any other view of it. It's a shame on musicians of today for not having delved into his catalog for the great songs."
Costello -- who previously recorded three Bacharach songs -- connected with their author in '95 to collaborate on "God Give Me Strength," a ballad for the movie Grace of My Heart. The coupling was suggested by director Allison Anders and noted music supervisor Karyn Rachtman. "It was a chance invitation I was excited about," Costello says. "And I think [Bacharach] had developed a notion that I was somebody who wasn't afraid of musical ambition."
With Costello at home in Ireland, Bacharach at home in Santa Monica, and the soundtrack deadline fast approaching, the duo did their initial writing via phone and fax. "It's a very unusual way to make your first collaboration," Costello says. But "God Give Me Strength" (also featured on Painted From Memory) worked so well the partners met on and off last year to work on 11 more tunes. These pair Costello's hearty, lounge-singer vibrato with Bacharach's lush string orchestrations. The melodies reflect pieces of each author.
"I think anybody that likes music can listen to these songs," Costello says. "They're good songs."
Costello -- born Declan McManus 44 years ago in London -- has a history of swimming against both mainstream music currents and fan expectations. Only four years after exploding into punk rock with his angry nerd stance in '77, he took a 180-degree turn into Almost Blue, an album of country covers. He also released an album of classical music with the Brodsky Quartet in '93.
Costello split with Warner Bros. Records last year, after none of his '90s albums sold more than 200,000 copies. "They only need one album by Alanis Morissette or Madonna to keep the company afloat, and everyone else can go to the wall," he says.
Ironically, Costello has chosen as his Mercury Records debut a project that should prove a promotional nightmare. "If radio stations don't want to play it, that's their judgment," he says. "But it would indicate a caution and timidity which I'm sure they wouldn't like associated with them. I'm sure they think of themselves as cutting-edge. And if they are, then they should be playing this record."
Costello and Bacharach begin a tour in October with a 30-piece orchestra and a backing band featuring former Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve. "Burt and I will probably begin the show together, playing songs from the record," Costello says. "Then one or the other of us will leave the stage for a short period so we can play songs from our respective catalogs."