ELVIS COSTELLO WITH BURT BACHARACH
Painted from Memory
Mercury Records Rating three
The pairing of a brilliant and witty lyricist like Elvis Costello with an equally brilliant melody-maker like Burt Bacharach is such a natural match you'd expect almost explosive results. After a two-year collaboration that began with God Give Me Strength for the Grace of My Heart soundtrack, this CD is too restrained to be explosive, but it's still the lush and complex album you'd demand of two of the pop pantheon's model members.
Painted from Memory is all soft-sounding ballads, packed with delicate piano, upbeat horns and sophisticated melodies so outside the formulaic that most hooks are lost on the first listening.
Costello is a long-time Bacharach fan, but he sounds strangely out of sorts on this co-production. He seems a little uncertain and self-conscious on most songs, and it could have had something to do with the dreadful female back-up vocals that hark back to the worst of '70s lounge.
Costello is at his richest on the previously recorded God Give Me Strength, a gorgeous, eloquent highlight that perfectly showcases Costello's voice and Bacharach's expertise at creating melodies that build, pause and ultimately soar.
Toledo also makes this pairing worthwhile, with an interplay of cool horns and a pretty chorus that lifts Costello's heavy lyrics into Bacharach's light and easy pop vision.
Other tracks don't fare as well, either victims of lyrics jammed awkwardly into a melody or Bacharach's occasional penchant for schmaltz (such as a ridiculous female vocal coda tacked on to My Thief). But when these guys are good, they make velvet-smooth classics, and several tracks here live up to that tradition.