Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: Painted From Memory

I have mixed feelings about this album.

There's no doubt that this 1998 collaboration between Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach is an great pop album, the issue really is whether you like that sort of thing.

Being a fan of his early, more rock-oriented work, enjoying Painted From Memory was a bit difficult. The album has grown on me over the years (really what Elvis Costello album hasn't) and looking back at his previous albums, it's not hard to see how something like this came to be.

The album goes for a more subtle approach to pop music than on Mighty Like A Rose and a more polished sound than on All This Useless Beauty. Costello sings on all of the songs, backed by a mix of players including Bacharach - who also conducts, Steve Nieve, Jim Keltner and group of female backing singers.Though the songs can be a bit saccharine at times, there are some dark sentiments throughout.

"In The Darkest Place" is one of my favorite songs on this album. It's starts out just as menacing as the title implies and proceeds as the laments of a man left by his beloved. The brooding atmosphere and lyrics created by Costello and Bacharach work so well together in this song, surpassing nearly all the songs that follow.

"Toledo" is a whole other thing, a bit more cheerful sounding though the lyrics seem to tell a more mischievous tale. The chorus is pretty amazing though and one of the most ear-wormy things you'll ever hear.

A theme of betrayal continues throughout the album in "I Still Have That Other Girl", "Painted From Memory," "God Give Me Strength," "What's Her Name Today?" and in the hilarious "Tears At The Birthday Party." That last song comes off as the cheesiest thing on the record. The backing girl singers are on overdrive for this as Costello sings about seeing a girl share a cake with someone else. I think this is the litmus test for this album. If you like it, you will love everything else.

"God Give Me Strength" is another standout and it's the song that kicked off this project. Composed by Costello and Bacharach for the film Grace of My Heart, about a songwriter in the Brill Building era, the song carries the same brooding mood as "In My Darkest Place" and "Painted From Memory." It's an unforgettable song featuring a great vocal performance by Costello and a grand musical arrangement. When he sings it live and belts out the lines "See I'm only human, I want him to hurt," it always brings down the house.

Classics: In My Darkest Place, Painted From Memory and God Give Me Strength

Songs I'd like to hear live: In My Darkest Place, God Give Me Strength

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