With a reputation so rooted in the nicotine-infused lounge lizardry of Hal David, Dionne Warwick and the zero consequence hedonism of Southern California affluence - the prospect of a Burt Bacharach tag-team with the much rougher and far more tumbled Elvis Costello would have seemed to be an Irwin Allen disaster in waiting - a wildly ironic vanity project with all the nervous energy and awkward body language of an arranged marriage.
Well, a strange thing happened on the way to that opposites don't attract scenario - Bacharach and Costello made a remarkable record that after a decade of repeated listening has only become more vibrant and powerful. The vastly different approach of both artists makes little difference - whether it is the caramelized melodies of Mr. Bacharach or the sly, vindictiveness of Costello's wordplay their view of relationships has always been essentially the same - love is a brutal enterprise and a harsh taskmaster.
Painted From Memory is sex music for couples with issues - serene and beautiful with innuendo and invective bubbling just beneath the surface. All of the compositions are masterful with "Toledo", "My Thief" and "What's Her Name Today?" particularly haunting. Painted From Memory is a permanent resident on my very short list of Desert Island Discs.
What did you think of this review?
Elvis Costello's collaboration with Burt Bacharach produced the exquisite Painted From Memory, an unabashedly classicist pop album that recalled Bacharach's heyday with Hal David. It was such an individual album, unlike anything in Costello's catalog, that it's a wonder that the same batch of songs could produce another album as equally compelling and unique, which is exactly what Bill Frisell's The Sweetest Punch is. Costello sent Frisell demos of every song on Painted From Memory after they were completed. As Costello and Bacharach worked on their album, Frisell wrote his own arrangements of the songs, assembling a stellar band -- including Don Byron, Brian Blade, Billy Drewes, Curtis Fowlkes, Viktor Krauss, and Ron Miles -- to record an alternate album. Neither group of musicians heard the others work, which meant each record developed its own personality. Indeed, it's fascinating to hear The Sweetest Punch after living with Painted From Memory for a year -- it's like passing through the looking glass. Frisell stays true to his own music and the songs, crafting inspired, subtly challenging arrangements. They're a far cry from the lavish orchestrations of the Costello-Bacharach affair, but Frisell's mild dissonance and elegant flow feels equally luxurious. These versions emphasize the strength of the songs. The musicians on The Sweetest Punch open the songs up, just as numerous jazz artists have with pop standards, discovering new ...