As accomplished musically as he is lyrically, Costello has never really required a songwriting partner, but a passion for the music of his youth has led to an undistinguished stint playing latter-day Lennon and McCartney and now a complete album as lyricist and vocalist for the king of easy listening.
This curious collaboration draws mostly on Bacharach's oeuvre. The light but imaginative melodies, sophisticated arrangements and complex rhythms all hearken back to the swinging Sixties, when Bacharach was in his prime and Costello in primary school.
At times, the muted trumpets and saccharine female choirs push the whole exercise towards parody, something that lyrical references to middle America (Toledo and Ohio get namechecked) only serve to emphasise. But, in his favour, Costello forgoes the tortuous puns and over-elaborate metaphors that often undermine his best work, turning in a series of mature lyrics contemplating complex, adult relationships. With a vocal stylist like Dionne Warwick, the result would have been old-fashioned but classy. Costello's voice, however, was never meant for this. Over-exposed his wracked crooning verges on the unpleasant.
The duo's finest moment, "God Give Me Strength," was also their first co-composition, an ambitious and impassioned pastiche that plays to the strengths of both participants. In pop music you can often achieve more in three minutes than you can in 60, so while subsequent Bacharach and Costello songs display many qualities, they never achieve the same heights as the first effort.