It would be difficult to find anyone in the field of songwriting more respected or revered than Costello and Bacharach and, given Costello's history of collaboration with artists such as Roger McGuinn on Back From Rio and even Paul McCartney (1989's Spike album) his desire to write with Bacharach would seem predictable, if not inevitable.
With the seeds of Painted From Memory planted by a couple of transatlantic phone calls from the Hollywood producers of Grace Of My Heart — the result being this album's aching full stop "God Give Me Strength" — subsequent furious brainstorming around the piano ensued. Eleven further collaborations of bitter sweet melody and recollections of lost love are the consequence.
Despite their eminence, the idea of this collaboration could cause trepidation. After all, Bacharach's brightly coloured melodies seem to belong in a perpetual Los Angeles summer day, while Costello's most celebrated work is laced with the demons of distrust and anxiety. But it's Bacharach's long established style of smooth piano dramatics and trademark pauses that characterise this record, his contribution which is the guiding light.
For example, on "Tears At The Birthday Party," a sad tale of a displaced husband imagining the object of his affections enjoying a party without him, Bacharach's patented schmaltz acts as a foil to the serrated edge of Costello's voice.
That said, Costello isn't at his most inaccessible or bombastic. First track "In The Darkest Place" features the line, "Since you put me down / It seems I've been very gloomy / You may laugh / But pretty girls look right through me." It might appear disposable, a simplistic tribute to Bacharach's most famous lyricist Hal David, but Costello's familiarly raw voice adds pathos and ruefulness, in much the same way as the Manics interpreted "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" on the Help album. Costello's emotional ghosts haunt tracks like "This House Is Empty Now," taking the album beyond suspicions that this project might be merely a self-indulgence on Costello's part or an over-reverent tribute to the great man.
This collaboration, like the record, seems to have been a mellow affair, and the result is a powerful and occasionally elegiac reminder of the art of the song. Respect to the elders.