Northwest Indiana Times, October 18, 1998

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Costello-Bacharach album is as sharp
as a butter knife

Tim Shellberg

There's a sentimental attachment to Elvis Costello in my book: As a high school senior, I was turned onto Costello by Katie, a valued friend who doubled as my prom date when my sorry self would've wound up stuck at home. Whilst "The Lady In Red," was a favorite at my high school prom, Katie and I opted for EC's "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes." While I haven't heard from her in a couple years (she's good to resurface into my crazy life every couple of years or so) I'm sure Painted From Memory, Costello's mismatched, sappy collaboration with septigarian songsmith Burt Bacharach, is making her cringe. A misstep of gigantic proportions, Painted From Memory, is far from the Elvis I worshipped as a teenager.

The seeds behind this fiasco were sown two years ago, when Costello and Bacharach were called upon by film director Allison Anders for a song for her film, Grace Of My Heart an excellent, albeit overlooked movie loosely based on the life of Carole King. The Costello/Bacharach pairing and its result, "God Give Me Strength," was suitable for the film and its soundtrack, which also featured former King collaborator and ex-husband Gerry Goffin paired with Los Lobos and Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Macias taking a shot at pre Pet Sounds-day Brian Wilson.

Two versions of "God Give Me Strength," were recorded for the film, one sung by Grace star Illeana Douglas and one by Costello. Only the Costello-sung version appears on the soundtrack, though. While I'm not promoting or encouraging actress Douglas to pursue a David Hasslehoff-esque side job, Douglas sung "God Give Me Strength" with more conviction than Costello, believe it or not.

As a full-length melding of the minds, Painted From Memory is an outright failure. Some critics are lining up to sing praises for Painting; "If nothing else comes of this collaboration, it certainly produced a spectacular album and is therefore a resounding success," said Copely News Service album reviewer John Godfrey (Tim to John: try a "resounding sleep aid.").

There's a fine line between classy and cheesy, and on Painted From Memory, Elvis Costello crossed that line. While E. should be given credit for making the effort to expand his musical horizons, one can feel Costello's lyrical i.q. dipping here. Costello's quite capable of success with lush arrangements and quiet fare without the aid of Bacharach — "Almost Blue" is one of the most gorgeous songs in his catalog.

One of my many musical preferences is very much parallel with my personality — loud and oftentimes obnoxious. This doesn't mean, however, that I shun all things subtle and tender. My Sade catalog sits snug in between the Royal Trux and the Sex Pistols, my Anita Baker collection is quite comfy next to Black Sabbath and Tuesday, I found myself waiting for Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" to conclude before getting in line to check out at Jewel.

Believe me. I tried with all my might to like this album. I searched to find some sort of validity, but had no luck. Save for making a vodka martini and lounging next to a gas-fueled fireplace, I tried with all my might to find a purpose and mood for this album. Perhaps Painted made for great house-cleaning music, I thought. Not at all. Perhaps it made for good background music. Nope.

Given Painting's tales of love lost, I tried getting sentimental on myself, meditating on lost loves and opportunities blown with the women of my past. In doing this, I must admit, was enlightened. Now I have an idea as to why some former objects of my affection might think I'm a putz.

The only thing Painted succeeds at is providing a framework for Bacharach to return to the mainstream. With a cameo appearance in Austin Powers last year and a recent TNT-aired homage to Bacharach featuring Cheryl Crow and Ben Folds Five, Bacharach is poised to replace Tony Bennett (whose son, Danny Bennett, is Costello's new manager) as this year's old hipster model.

Down the road, I'm hoping Costello views Painting as merely a vanity album. That or simply a grand stylistic detour from the norm along the lines of Trans, Neil Young's 1982 techno travesty. Until then, my Elvis thoughts are My Aim Is True and Katie. She was wearing a pretty boss pair of red shoes on prom night, if my memory serves me well.


Northwest Indiana Times, October 18, 1998

Tim Shellberg reviews Painted From Memory.


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