"I know he was supposed to be the king of punks or something," Burt Bacharach says of his new collaborator, "but the truth is, Elvis was a perfect gentleman all the way."
Today, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach are at Ocean Way Studios, in Hollywood, where they're mixing Painted From Memory, an album of eleven newly written timeless songs of love and longing that comes out on September 29th. Included on the record is their first collaboration, the Grammy-nominated "God Give Me Strength," which was written via fax and phone under extreme time constraints for the Allison Anders film Grace of My Heart. That joint effort led to their working together on this album. Costello penned the lyrics, and they both wrote the music — a cooperative task that required considerably more face-to-face contact.
"We were pretty hard on each other," Costello admits, "but it's not like Burt is saying, 'I hear this on flutes' and I'm saying, 'No, I hear it like Metallica.'"
"We had to get used to working together," adds Bacharach. "Two people sitting in a room with a keyboard, and it's like getting used to each other so you can say, 'I don't like that: We had differences, but we talked it through."
"That gives you the confidence to go forward," Costello adds, "knowing that you have reached an agreement."
The result of Bacharach and Costello's labor (and negotiations) is a stunning, vital song cycle — complete with a twenty-four-piece pop orchestra and Greek-chorus-like backing vocals — that recalls some of Bacharach's classic work from the Sixties. It's a lost-love, after-hours album, like Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely. Bacharach has helped to elicit the finest vocal performances of Costello's career on tracks like "In the Darkest Place," "Toledo" and "I Still Have That Other Girl."
A longtime Bacharach admirer (he's recorded three Bacharach songs), Costello says he's thrilled with the recent wave of Burt mania, which was kicked off in part by Oasis' loving boosterism, the prominent play of Bacharach songs in My Best Friend's Wedding and a Bacharach cameo in Austin Powers. But Costello has one reservation.
"It's fine to say Burt is a hip guy," Costello says, "but do you actually know anything about the songs? This has nothing to do with kitsch. The reason you're getting this is because the songs are enormously resonant, outside of time and fashion concerns completely. It's great fun, and by all means get dressed up and hold your martini glass, but don't mistake this for anything other than very, very deeply felt music."