Music to get divorced by? That's just one of the critiques levelled at Elvis Costello since his album with Mr Smooth, Burt Bacharach, was released last year.
Costello could afford to joke about that in Sydney yesterday, as he mused on the success of the pair's album, Painted From Memory. With its blend of Bacharach's arrangements and Costello's sharp and, at times, heartbreaking lyrics, the work has sparked a renaissance in both their careers.
Costello performs songs from the album and from his illustrious back catalogue on his latest Australian tour, which began in Brisbane on Monday.
"Some people have come up and said 'I've got divorced and this is the record I'm playing'," Costello said of Painted From Memory.
"While you're writing it, you want it to be a heartbreak record, but when you're confronted by someone who's really going through it, you hope the record is equal to it. When you envisage someone sitting down with it for solace, it's a responsibility."
The Liverpool songsmith, now based in Ireland, has traversed a number of musical genres since he found himself the darling of the new wave in the late 70s, with albums such as This Year's Model and Armed Forces. At other times, he has dabbled in everything from country to classical.
"My curiosity has taken me far from where I started and I just don't see that guitar combo sound as being able to serve everything that I want to do,' he said. "It would be incredibly lazy and somewhat patronising to the audience to keep feeding them the same record."
Although his collaboration with Bacharach was forged recently, Costello admits to being a fan of his partner "right from the early days".
"The first cover version I ever performed in my professional career was (the Dusty Springfield hit) "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself." It was regarded by the audience with a mixture of surprise and nervous laughter, as if it was ironic. Of course it wasn't, it was just that I liked the song and I only had one ballad in my repertoire at the time."
Costello hasn't always fared well in Australia. He was unhappy with audience expectations of some kind of punk show during his first visit in the late 70s, and his last tour of entertainment centres in 1991 was poorly attended. This theatre tour, however, is a sell-out. He is joined on the tour by keyboard player Steve Nieve, from his former band the Attractions, with whom he has been performing for the past three years.
"It's a big old world and I play for people that want to hear it," Costello said. "That's been my agenda from the beginning."