Elvis Costello, the king of lyrical sting, and smooth Burt Bacharach (whose long list of credits includes pop classics such as "What the World Needs Now," "Close to You," "Don't Make Me Over," "This Girl's in Love With You," "Walk on By" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head") would seem to make unlikely collaborators.
Already, though, they've combined successfully on "God Give Me Strength," a Grammy-nominated tune from the film Grace of My Heart. The last track here, it follows 11 new compositions featuring Bacharach's beautifully complex music and Costello's dark, deftly turned musings on heartache, tears, dark rooms and sad memories. Only occasionally, as on "Such Unlikely Lovers," does Costello let a little light in the form of new romance shine in.
The rest of the time, it's pretty much unrelenting emotional darkness a "glorious distress." On the title track, a former lover's eyes smile, but for someone else. "Since you put me down / It seems I've been very gloomy," he sings on "In the Darkest Place." Pain never sounds so exquisite as it does in Bacharach's hands, though.
The arrangements, with their Alpert-like trumpets, electric pianos, chimes and lush strings, inspire melancholy even as they offer soft caresses.
For his part, Costello can't compete vocally with past Bacharach interpreters Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Karen Carpenter or Dusty Springfield. But, as he proved again on his recent collaboration with the Fairfield Four, he can sing with power and passion. Occasionally, he's not equal to his own material his falsetto on "God Give Me Strength" sounds a little strained but more often his phrasing gives the songs an added dimension.
As summer gives way to the bittersweet darkness of fall, this is powerful stuff at once warm as a hearth and cold as a North wind.