Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Painted From Memory - Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach

So much Costello to choose from - Imperial Bedroom or This Year's Model both clamouring for attention - but ultimately I had to choose this album, Elvis's 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach.  Easy Listening?  Hardly - this is as far removed from Easy Listening as any album could be - especially if you have ever been unlucky or deceitful in love.

After Blood on the Tracks, this is the second 'breakup' album on my list (what is it with me and breakup albums?) themed around lost love, broken relationships, guilt and revenge.  And it is possibly the tension between the smooth, easy melodies and the brittle, tense lyrics that sets this album apart from other albums of the genre.

I make no excuses for my love of Burt Bacharach - he has been involved in the creation of some of the greatest music ever recorded and it is not just Costello in the 'modern idiom' who has recognised that - Noel Gallagher, who only steals from the best, has put on record his love of the man's music (reverse the chord sequence of 'This Guy's In Love With You' and you might recognise 'Half A World Away').

Surprisingly, such a tight collaboration was largely conducted at a distance - the two songwriters swapping snippets of lyric and melody by phone and email.  The collaboration began with 'God Give Me Strength', recorded for a film soundtrack and included here as the album's closer.

Inspired by his illustrious partner, Costello's lyrics hit new highs on this album.  He explores the overriding themes from interesting perspectives - 'This House is Empty Now' has the narrator walking round an empty home, shorn of his partner and looking to face life alone, remembering the times they shared in the now deserted home.  The title track, 'Painted From Memory', suggests that eventually even the faces of those we loved will fade from memory.  'I Still Have That Other Girl' - an affair that is doomed before it starts as Elvis cannot forget the girl he would be leaving.

I know - it sounds like a barrel of laughs,doesn't it?  It certainly packs a huge emotional punch, the bitterest pill wrapped in the sweetest of sugar coatings.  An unforgettable album.

This House Is Empty Now - Burt on baton and piano, Elvis on vocals.  Absolutely sublime - and not just the lyrics.  The exquisite little guitar figure after the bridge ("Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?") is almost throwaway, yet absolutely heartbreaking.

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