Spin, December 1998

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Painted From Memory

Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach

Richard Gehr

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It's no secret that Elvis Costello holds great crooning depressives such as Frank Sinatra and George Jones in lofty esteem Painted From Memory can slump proudly against the bar alongside the Chairman's Only the Lonely and the Possum's Memories of Us. Magnificent bummers such as these transcend khaki ads, transporting listeners into deep worlds of hurt where manly regret over having really, really screwed up is transformed into anguish and, with any luck, action. It's music from "the darkest place," as the opening track has it, echoing Costello's creepy contribution to the X Files compilation, "My Dark Life": Secret snapshots taken within an empty house where the singer wallows in his "glorious distress" because "it's not a temporary fracture," she is "lost to me forever," and "now I have nothing."

Costello, breaking in a new label by taking a break from his flagging sales figures as a rocker, has discovered more than his own Nelson Riddle in 70-year-old Burt Bacharach. In addition to being a talented arranger, Bacharach was once a virtual hit machine whose signature Latinate horns, swooping strings, and female choruses have long served a sophisticated pop sensibility even more finely developed than Costello's. On Memory, Costello's mighty mouth — never more intimate on record — milks the drama out of exquisite melodies, melodies that peak before reaching the far side of the abyss or simply tumbling over the edge.

The album's odd billing — what's with that demeaning "with"? — probably signifies Bacharach's longtime tow profile on the current popscape. But I'd argue that it's Costello who's starring in a Bacharach production. Memory is never devoid of nostalgia; when it comes to Bacharach country, Costello is as much fan as collaborator. Memory's empty rooms sound expensively furnished in California carpets and curtains, accessorized by the occasional loungey guitar or sax break. A final teary cry into the night, this album suggests a Malibu last exit only a handful of Valium, several tequila sunrises, and a short hike across the sand away.


Spin, December 1998

Richard Gehr reviews Painted From Memory.


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Cover and page scan.
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