I’ve listened to more music this year than any year before (thanks Spotify!), but the album that has consumed my ears more than any other record this year is Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory, recorded in 1998. I’ve loved Elvis Costello’s work for several years, but I never noticed Bacharach until recently. Bacharach has wrote some of the best songs of sixties with “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, “Walk On By”, “This Guy’s In Love With You”, “What The World Needs Now is Love” and “Blue On Blue”. He’s wrote a total of 73 top 40 hits.
Costello comes from another kind of sound altogether, recording punk rock with his group The Attractions since the mid-seventies. Costello has recorded several Bacharach songs prior to their collaboration, so it’s not exactly from left field that Costello recorded this album with Bacharach.
I’m not exactly sure who wrote what on Painted From Memory, but it sounds like Bacharach album from beginning to end. The sound of this album is it’s most endearing quality. Bacharach’s music sounds exactly like the stuff he laid out in the sixties, it completely ignores any sort of music made after 1964. There’s nothing that sounds quite like Painted From Memory, at least not this good.
Costello’s input as vocalist makes the album really stand out. (specifically on “In The Darkest Place”, “I Still Have That Other Girl” and “God Give Me Strength”) Most of Bacharach’s songs are put with some very talented vocalists, but Costello has never exactly been been called a fantastic singer. His moments of vocal strain really stand out and bring out the best of Bacharach’s songs, and some of Costello’s best vocals are contained on this record.
The use of strings and horns are fantastic and the subtle shifts that certain songs take are genius, but it takes a few listens to grab how great some Bacharach’s songs are. This record isn’t going to be for everyone, Costello’s voice might not be for everyone on a recording like this, and the songwriting and instrumentation might sound to dated or “cheesy” for some.
I will say that there are several moments where the production could have used some improvement. But most of it sounds very good. The only other gripe I have with some songs sounding too much alike, but most that goes away with Costello’s fantastic lyrics. The lyrics that Costello sings fit in perfectly with songs and they’re some of the best stuff he’s ever written.
It’s rare for a collaboration in music to really sound like a collaboration, Painted From Memory pulls it off. While Bacharach is more featured than Costello, it wouldn’t have worked any other way. It was Bacharach’s best since his sixties heyday and Costello’s best since in quite some time as well. It’s one of the most underrated albums of the nineties, and one of my favorites.
Rating: 9.6 out of 10.