NEW YORK — Two songwriting giants, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, release their much-anticipated album collaboration Sept. 29.
The Mercury Records set, Painted From Memory, is the first release under Costello's unique joint pact with Mercury and PolyGram Classics & Jazz (Billboard, Feb. 7). It was produced by the two artists and features Bacharach performing on piano and conducting a 24-piece pop orchestra.
The album, which will be promoted as a landmark event, stems from Costello and Bacharach's Grammy-nominated initial collaboration, "God Give Me Strength." Originally showcased on 1996's Grace Of My Heart movie soundtrack, the song is also on the new album.
"We wrote it over the phone, which is an extraordinary way to begin a collaboration," says Costello. "But we enjoyed recording it so much that I asked Burt if we might get together in the same room sometime."
The initial teaming "was a very interesting process," adds Bacharach. "Since we were never in the room together, we didn't connect to each other until we made the record. Working with new writers is like a blind date: You think it will be OK, and then afterward you don't want to go out with them anymore. But it went positive for both of us, and we felt that whether or not it was successful, we should do it again."
But Costello was going through dramatic career changes, including the disbanding of his group the Attractions and the conclusion of his Warner Bros. contractual obligations. So it wasn't until early 1997 that the pair resumed the partnership.
"The writing process with Elvis was very different," says Bacharach, "because he's a music man as well as a great, great word man. He basically accounted for the lyrics — as he should. But he has this whole musical sense, having written both music and lyrics, whereas [former collaborator] Hal [David] was just lyrics, Carole [Bayer Sager] was mainly lyrics, and while Neil Diamond wrote music, too, this was much more intense — and a real labor of love."
For his part, Costello says that his work with Bacharach differed greatly from previous writing collaborations with Paul McCartney and the Brodsky Quartet. Except for the title track, which Costello began writing on guitar, all of his musical contributions were written on piano, "which is not my main instrument," he says, noting that his use of the piano "immediately opened up a more orchestrated approach."
While he says that the resulting songs bear "elements of our respective styles," he notes, too, that his own style shows a Bacharach influence that he absorbed early on and that was expressly manifested in his previous covers of Bacharach's "I Don't Know What To Do With Myself" and "Please Stay."
Mercury Records Group senior VP of marketing Michael Krumper says that Painted From Memory evokes some of Bacharach's best-known work but achieves an "emotional intensity" that more than lives up to its expectations.
"A record like this comes around every 10 years," says Krumper. "The collaboration of two people whom so many hold so closely to their hearts makes the album an event."
Mercury's job, notes Krumper, is "to let Costello's fans know this is a record they'll fall in love with." Media exposure will involve advertising in appropriate print and broadcast outlets, Krumper says.
Of great significance, too, will be media coverage, and here Krumper reports instant success with stories scheduled in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, New York magazine, The New Yorker, Time Out, People, Request, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, and GQ, as well as Entertainment Tonight and CNN. A satellite media tour is also planned around release date.
International media includes the German edition of Rolling Stone and The Guardian and Mojo in the U.K. Krumper expects extensive promotion in October in Europe and the U.K., as Painted From Memory is a Mercury title worldwide.
Costello and Bacharach will perform on Late Show With David Letterman on the release date, and a New York in-store is being set for October. "We're putting together a TV special and have shot interview and production footage in the studio, which we hope will air before the end of the year," says Krumper.
At radio, college, modern rock, and triple-A stations will be shipped the album Sept. 7; album track "The Long Division" is going to adult contemporary stations on the same date. Costello, who recently played Japan with Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve, will also appear with Nieve at hot AC station WBMX Boston's the Mix Fest Oct. 10.
Having heard a taste of Painted From Memory, Bruce Warren, PD at triple-A station WXPN Philadelphia, says that fans of Costello's last studio album, All This Useless Beauty (1996), "have definitely got a feel for what this project sounds like. He's becoming a pop singer in the classic sense, and songs like 'Why Can't A Man Stand Alone' from the last album have the same sensibility as Bacharach."
Terry Currier, owner of the two Music Millennium stores in Portland, Ore., believes that Painted From Memory will do very well. "Burt Bacharach's probably experiencing his greatest revival ever, and Elvis is picking up a younger fan base than he's had since we were all teens when he first came out," says Currier.
Bacharach — who is managed by attorney Lee Phillips of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, booked by William Morris' Richard Rosenberg, and published through New Hidden Valley Music/Warner/Chappell Music (ASCAP) — is following up his recent film exposure via the soundtracks to My Best Friend's Wedding and Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery with his upcoming score for Isn't She Great, the Jacqueline Susann biopic starring Bette Midler.
Costello, who is now managed by Danny Bennett of RPM Music Productions in conjunction with Gill Taylor of By Eleven, is booked through the Marsha Vlassic Organization and published by Plangent Visions Music (ASCAP).
He says that he has five albums "mapped out in my head for the next five, 10, or 15 years."