Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's Painted from Memory endures as an extraordinary exhibition of prime music making, gorgeous arranging, and naked emotion. Having transpired after the pair teamed up on "God Give Me Strength" for a film soundtrack (and the closing track here), the album has since gone on to become one of the most respected – and admired – projects of each artist's considerable careers. Its expert employment of melody and harmony imparts a timelessness that stretches back to pop's golden age and icons such as Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra. Further boosted by meticulous production, it has long called out for audiophile treatment.
Mastered from the original master tapes and strictly limited to 2,000 numbered copies, our hybrid SACD of Painted from Memory transforms the 1998 set into an essential component of any library. Always an effort that rewarded solitary listening, it now breathes with ravishing openness, reveals crystalline detail, unfolds against jet-back backgrounds, mesmerizes with a rainbow of textures, and constantly engages with its impossible smoothness. For the first time, the scope of the intricacies, nuances, and phrasings embedded in Bacharach's meticulous compositions can be experienced in full. The orbit of the bridges, refrains, and codas beguiles the senses. Ditto the poetic reach of Costello's singing and lyrics.
Indeed, the level of care and concern invested into every passage of Painted from Memory is immediately gleaned by the ravishing sonics afforded on this collectable edition. Reference-grade presence, tonality, and balance help capture the sweep of the strings, colorful blush of the horn accents, and weight of the piano. Steve Nieve's keyboards, Greg Cohen's bass, Dean Parks' guitar, and Jim Keltner's drums seemingly appear right in the room. Rather than smear together or jockey for position, each instrument enjoys its own place and simultaneously sounds part of the rich, lush, complex albeit completely interwoven tapestry. Graceful, elegant, and classicist-minded, Painted from Memory is a genuine masterpiece – and a true collaboration.
No wonder Costello dedicated a large portion of a chapter from his Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink memoir to his time with Bacharach. Among his insights, Costello explains how crafting the album forced him to be a better writer and singer – and a better listener, stating: "Writing those first songs with Burt Bacharach required me to listen to what the music was really saying to me. Sometimes it was speaking so quietly that I needed to listen very intently. I needed time for the meaning and feeling that I sensed in the music to be confirmed by my own words. The strange thing was that the title of a song often came to me in an instant, but then would begin the more excruciating task of negotiating Burt's spacious melodies and rhythmic subtleties."
The very aspects Costello discusses come to the forefront on remarkable torch pieces such as the intensely dramatic "This House Is Empty Now," melancholic "Thief," and Grammy-winning "I Still Have That Other Girl." In addition to Bacharach's suave, sophisticated, strikingly exquisite orchestrations, Costello's vocals carry the day. Straddling two octaves and sighing with pain, bittersweet romance, and wistful reflection, his baritone stretching to convey highs and lows with crooner-like poise, breadth, and fastidiousness. Thrilling, distinctive, and memorable, the performances are just like the entirety Painted from Memory itself – unforgettably great.