NEW YORK — Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach sat in a hotel lounge explaining why their musical partnership wasn't as odd as it seemed. The usually voluble Costello did most of the talking.
Bacharach listened, and not just to his younger friend. He smiled in recognition upon hearing the first few notes of one of his songs, "The Look of Love," quietly playing in the background.
He asked Costello — maybe seriously, maybe as a subtly competitive joke — if he had arranged to pipe in the instrumental version of Dusty Springfield's classic. Costello shot him a sardonic smile. It wasn't the first time he'd been interrupted in public by Bacharach's work.
"It happens all the time," he said. Costello wasn't expecting to hear "Radio Radio" at the Regency. There's a better chance, someday, of hearing something from Painted From Memory, the new collaboration between the resurgent king of lounge music and the Brit who surfed the first wave of punk rock in the 1970s.
They first worked together three years ago, when filmmaker Allison Anders asked them to pair for a song on the soundtrack to Grace of My Heart. They wrote "God Give Me Strength" by phone and fax machine, coming face-to-face only to record.
Costello was so pleased he suggested a longer project, one in which they could actually write together in the same room. The result is a moody song cycle about lost love, with lush orchestration, reminiscent of such Frank Sinatra albums as In the Wee Small Hours.
"It's a pretty good theme for the both of us," Bacharach said. "I've always been inclined to write romantic music, hopefully from the heart. There are not a lot of up-tempo songs in my catalog."
Many of Bacharach's songs go down easy, but Costello appreciates the complex melodies and the way they can convey emotion, even without words. Bacharach may be popular in lounges, but that's not how he defines himself.
"If you want to put any label on it — cocktail music or easy-listening music — I'm not going to be angry with that," he said. "I don't necessarily agree. I don't think 'Anyone Who Had a Heart' is easy listening."
"There was nothing to be gained in trying to prove the point that we could make some sort of Frankenstein's monster out of the most extreme edges," Costello said. "The hybrid of 'Pump It Up' and 'What's New, Pussycat' might seem like something of a road crash."