27 September 2023

The Songs of Bacharach & Costello (Super Deluxe)

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach, Mercury Records 2023.

This album brings two song writing master craftsmen together to create an exquisite work that highlights the power and beauty of the four-minute popular song.

Although this particular album is a new release it is really a reissue of Bacharach and Costello’s 1998 collaboration, Painted From Memory, plus some other songs that the two recorded in subsequent years.

Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello are an interesting mix. Costello is known for the darkness and acerbic wit he displays in his lyrics, while Bacharach is the master of the beautiful melody.

But their partnership works because of their differences, in a Taoist sort of way.

The lightness of Bacharach’s melody highlights the darkness of the lyric. A mountain is tall when compared to a valley.

The harmony of opposites.

Songs like In The Darkest Place, while dealing with deep despair, are softened and lightened by a melody that tugs at the heartstrings while simultaneously allowing the listener to soar.

The complete musical mastery that Bacharach possessed introduced a palate of sound that Elvis Costello would never have envisaged for his lyrics; Bacharach turned each song into a mini concerto.

The use of strings, flugelhorns, chimes and all the resources of an orchestra in songs like I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, Walk On By, and Anyone Who Had A Heart forever changed the way that song writers approached pop songs.

And the collaboration changed Elvis Costello too.

They started writing together via fax machine in the mid-1990s when Costello sent Bacharach an unfinished song he was writing for a film. The song was called God Give Me Strength.

Bacharach added some minor lyrical touches and a powerful middle eight and the song was complete.

They continued to meet over the ensuing years at Bacharach’s studio whenever time was available in their respective schedules and eventually, they had enough songs for Painted From memory.

It’s really interesting to listen to Elvis Costello sing the melodies written by Burt Bacharach.

There’s always been an edginess to Elvis Costello’s vocals that provides some of the tension in his songs. And yet once again the fact that Costello must strive to reach some of the notes adds to the interpretation of the song.

The harmony of opposites.

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