Washington Observer-Reporter, October 14, 1998

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New Elvis Costello CD introduces Bacharach
to yet another generation

Robert Philpot / Fort Worth Star-Telegram 

Painted From Memory, the new album by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, is dedicated to children in the two artists’ families. This is fitting. Not only is Costello, despite his long and largely mythical connection to punk-rock, a musical child of Bacharach’s, but Bacharach’s music has a timelessness about it, which should be passed on from generation to generation.

Should be. It was surprisingly difficult to find this much-anticipated CD in stores, but it was even more astonishing to encounter blank stares from salesclerks after asking about it.

You kids these days. Don’t you know that Bacharach has left a legacy that’s stretched from pre-Casino Royale to post-Austin Powers, from Marty Robbins singing "The Story of My Life" to Rupert Everett leading a sing-along of "I Say A Little Prayer" in My Best Friend’s Wedding? That alt-rockers such as Stereolab and R.E.M. have sung the praises of his songwriting?

Bacharach’s music has been part of the pop culture for 40 years, but although modern rockers such as Oasis and soul singers such as Tevin Campbell have covered his songs, we found only one Web site dedicated to him. He deserves better – let’s hope that when Rhino Records releases the three-CD The Look Of Love: The Burt Bacharach Box on Nov. 3, it’ll be a lot easier to find.

The best thing about the Costello collaboration is how it evokes an almost subliminal melancholy mood. Bacharach is known primarily as a songwriter, but his true strength lies in his arranging skills. Bacharach rarely went over the top – his songs were more often matters of subtle punctuation rather than loud exclamation points. The softly bleating flugelhorns of "Toledo," one of the best songs of the new CD, echo Herb Albert’s guy-with-a-hopeless-crush trumpet on 1968’s heart-tugging "This Guy’s In Love With You."

Like many prolific songwriters, however, Bacharach hit a slow period; he was quiet for much of the late ‘70s, and the early ‘80s found him mostly writing for movies, usually with then-wife Carole Bayer Sager. Although he produced a few hits ("Arthur’s Theme", "That’s What Friends Are For"), the pop landscape has subdivided. The guy who once shared the airwaves with the Beatles and the Stones couldn’t be found on the same stations with disco dollies and hair-metal bands. Those who preferred harder-edged rock stopped paying attention.

And now he’s working with Costello, who at 43 roughly belongs to my generation the same way the 69-year-old Bacharach roughly belongs to my father’s. The songwriters are kindred spirits; musically eclectic seeking new challenges, obsessed in many ways with the misfires of love. At its best, this music tugs at your heart even before you realize that you’re humming along with it.

It’s not the sort of stuff that will get easy radio exposure; you’ll have to seek the album out. It’s worth the hunt, not just because it’s a good CD, but because it provides a gateway to Bacharach’s REALLY good older stuff. And with that Rhino set due out next month, it’s the perfect time to reopen the door to Bacharach’s world.


The Observer-Reporter, October 14, 1998

Robert Philpot reviews Painted From Memory.


1998-10-14 Washington Observer-Reporter clipping 01.jpg


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