One could not be more in awe of such great presence than in Elvis Costello's new album. In Painted From Memory, Costello, one of the best songwriters in the music industry, teams up with famed songwriter Burt Bacharach, the man who penned many of Dionne Warwick's love songs in a previous generation. (Some of you may even remember Bacharach as the man who had a highly amusing cameo in the movie Austin Powers, playing the piano aboard a moving vehicle.)
So by right, sparks should fly between the two and the result should be an electrifying album. But is it? No doubt, the arrangement of the songs by Bacharach is beautifully done, with a 24-piece pop orchestra in the background. But Costello's soaring, unstrung, and angst-filled voice just doesn't seem to go well with the melodies. Granted, the melodies are deeply poignant and sophisticated, but there's just something about Costello's raw voice that doesn't go down too well.
Additionally, most of the songs on the album sound the same. None of them quite stand out, with the exception of "Toledo," and the Grammy-nominated "God Give Me Strength," taken off the soundtrack of Grace of My Heart. In "Toledo," Costello
does some admirable belting about his heartache: "So I walked outside in the bright / Sunshine and lovers pass by / Smiling and joking / But they don't know the fool I was / Why should they care what was lost / What was broken?"
As for "God Give Me Strength," Costello's voice here is powerful and full of emotion. Too bad the same can't be said for the rest of his songs. His thick voice lacks range and soon gets lost among the lush background music of Bacharach.
In truth, the album is a case of mismatch. Bacharach's music sounds like the soundtrack of some 1980s soap opera like Dynasty, whereas Costello's voice is better suited for more modern and punk-like tunes.
The underlying theme in Painted From Memory is basically romantic disillusionment. So that could be said to account for the mellow songs. But there is a marked lack of jauntier tunes, which would have definitely liven up the album and put Costello's voice to better use. Painted From Memory is strictly for fans of 1960s lounge pop. It's the kind of album that you would store away, in memory, and listen to only on a rainy day.