Home Read Classic Album Review: Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach | Painted From Memory

Classic Album Review: Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach | Painted From Memory

The punk meets the godfather in one of the most intriguing collaborations in pop.

This came out in 1998 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Plenty of fans are probably wondering why one of the world’s most talented songwriters is spending time with a has-been who hasn’t penned a memorable tune in years.

Hey, who knows? Maybe Burt Bacharach felt sorry for the poor guy.

Kidding. Kidding. But facts are facts: These days, Bacharach’s calorie-free ’60s kitsch is back on the upswing, while Elvis Costello seems to have all but abandoned his wry pop muse — and much of his audience along with it. (Name the last Costello album you bought. Name the last Costello album, for that matter.)

But once upon a time not that long ago, Elvis practically wanted to be Bacharach. He was covering Burt and Hal David’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself in concert all the way back in 1977. So the prospect of hearing them together — the punk finally meeting the godfather, as it were — promised to be an intriguing collaboration between two of the most distinctive voices in pop.

And thankfully, for the most part, it is. On the dozen songs he and Costello co-wrote here, Burt’s stamps — the peppy poppy melodies, the swelling strings, the chirpy horns, the sleek female backup vocals — sound as fresh as they did in 1965. By contrast, Costello’s lyrics veer toward last-call laments while almost all his vocals are raspy 3 a.m. whispers. And even though torch balladry is arguably not his strongest suit, timeless tracks like God Give Me Strength, This House Is Empty Now, What’s Her Name Today and In The Darkest Place suggest it very well could be soon enough.

But first, he and Burt need to paint a few more memorable gems.