The Look of Love Lost

Two new releases pit the new songs of Bacharach & Costello against the old classics of Bacharach & David

Toward the end of Disc Three, you can feel the hits stop coming. Burt and Hal lose their magic touch somewhere in the middle of scoring the disastrous remake of the movie Lost Horizon in 1973. They compound their problems by having actors Liv Ullman and Peter "I'm Mad As Hell" Finch sing on the soundtrack. Worse, the score contains treacly, Sesame Street-type anthems like "Living Together, Growing Together," which appears here with the Fifth Dimension singing. And that's the last new Bacharach/David hit anyone hears. The team splits up, and whether you're ready for the '80s or not, the listener is forced to leap from the Me Decade to the arguably more selfish Us Decade.

The turnaround is more than a little jarring. That your ears must sonically adjust from Burt's lush, intricate orchestrations where he obsessed over every kielbasa or triangle part to crass Yamaha DX7s that dated records to the week they were issued is bad enough. But juxtaposing Hal David's brilliant prose against his successor, Carole Bayer Sager, is a no-win situation.

First of all, she was Bacharach's third wife. Think of how much compromising you have to do with the missus just to buy living-room furniture and you can imagine how compromised Burt must've been at those ivories. Only three songs herein represent their entire 10-year partnership (there is a God to give you strength after all, because Rhino left off "Heartlight" by Neil Diamond!). In commercial defense of those songs, all three were No. 1 hits, but it's as if the beautiful adventurous soul driven to write such universal masterpieces of longing as "24 Hours From Tulsa" and "Alfie" has been forever anesthetized in the dentist chair and forced to write songs Christopher Cross wouldn't have a hard time singing.

DISC FOUR: Painted From Memory
Reviewers still oblivious to Lou Johnson are likening Elvis Costello, Bacharach's latest collaborator and mouthpiece, to the male Dionne Warwick. If Dionne ever made a whole album of torch songs around "Walk On By" or "Are You There (With Another Girl)," this would appear to be its sequel, with all the apologies and the unremedied guilt from the other side of the door, letters never mailed from the dark end of the street.

You'll hear familiar Bacharach touches like flugelhorns and tack pianos, but unlike other return-to-active-duty albums like Roy Orbison's Dream Girl, John Fogerty's Centerfield or any Brian Wilson solo album, there are no deliberate pastiches of older songs dealt out to sucker you in. "This House Is Empty Now" might appear like it's gonna be another "A House Is Not a Home," but the two are worlds apart.

Brook Benton still had hope his love might return, still in love with him. Not only will that not happen to Elvis' protagonist, he's already obsessing over which friends will side with him in the split. In Hal David's lyrics, every action is of the moment, a breakup has either just occurred or a romance is just beginning. Painted From Memory is like a time-lapse movie where we get to see sorrow played out unrelieved for years after. The wife or lover he cheated on in "Toledo" has not only moved out, she's moved on to someone else. On "Tears at the Birthday Party," the twice-removed Elvis looks on at this new beau playing daddy with his kids and cries, "Now I see you share your cake with him/Unwrapping presents that I should've sent/Must I watch you?"

But Elvis recognizes the look of love when he sees it, too. What a thrill it is to hear Bacharach putting a live orchestra through its paces during the bridge, creating a busy city street with music.

"Though no one seems to notice as they hurry by/Ask me what I'm thinking and I won't deny it! I am bewildered," Costello exclaims on "Such Unlikely Lovers," with all the wonder and apprehension of someone about to lose control of his heart's internal functions. The resignation returns like a badly endorsed reality check on "My Thief" and just about every song thereafter. By the time he's pleading "God Give Me Strength," it's more because he wants his replacement rubbed out by the Almighty than because he cares about his own salvation.

While that might seem like a downcast ending, it's in the tradition of fine heartbreak albums like Sinatra's No One Cares and Only the Lonely, which were designed to help you remember the lost love you're powerless to forget. Like Sinatra, Elvis' heart will go on. But for Chrissakes, who wants to hear that?

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