Burt Bacharach's style of music is great for soundtracks, and there's a certain doctor's office Muzak charm about some of his hits, but he essentially writes flaccid music for flaccid moods. The Elvis Costello / Bacharach team, despite a few genuine beauts, brings out the most tepid in Costello; unfortunately, Costello seems unable to raise the bar for his partner.
Costello has leaned on lush arrangements more and more as his career has evolved, but on Memorv, he seems to be writing down to the music. Or, as a fellow Costello-ite proffered, perhaps he's writing more simply and universal. Whichever it is, you end up with songs like "I Still Have That Other Girl," an albeit catchy lyric hook with pedestrian lyrics. Such is the case with many of the tunes new: "This House Is Empty Now," "My Thief," and the title track float along a facile, ultimately forgettable melody with equally uninspired lyrics.
This journey into the innocuous isn't without highlights. "Toledo," with its Bacharach trademark sad-sack horn, is an achingly adult twist on betrayal ("It's no use saying that I love you / And that girl really didn't mean a thing to me" says more in a line than other whole songs here). Another broken bond fuels "The Sweetest Punch," a shimmering gem where Bacharach steps up his lithe melody-making to great, multi-layered effect, and the duo's first-ever collaboration "God Give Me Strength" (from the movie Grace Of My Heart) is compelling and empathetic.
The most consistently impressive thing about this collaboration is Elvis Costello's voice: nimble, impassioned, and committed on virtually every cut. His voice salvages many songs, but even it is not enough to save Painted From Memory from underachieving.