Listen to this song by serial musical collaborator Elvis Costello and smooth-as-silk pop classicist Burt Bacharach. It’s “What’s Her Name Today?” as taken from their must-hear 1998 album Painted from Memory. It’s the record which features the higher profile track “God Give Me Strength” as featured in the movie Grace Of My Heart.
Sometimes, the wallflower tune on a record that has plenty of songs which vye for my attention is my favourite of the bunch. “What’s Her Name Today?” is one of those, packing as hard an emotional and melodic punch as any song on Painted From Memory. This is a tale of a man confronting another man about the poor way he treats women, knowing that he does it because he was once ruined by a certain one who’s now out of reach.
It’s a classic tale of revenge, and yet one that ultimately casts the revenger as one who can’t receive any satisfaction. The one on whom he seeks revenge has long gone. Yet, behind lay a trail of innocents whom one can imagine will feel the need to pass along some bitterness of their own. It’s a powerful song, exploring how damage to the human heart often spreads to others if not properly addressed.
Yet, because Costello’s delivery suggests a tone of pity, not judgment, this is not an angry song so much as a sad one. And this matches most, if not all, of the songs on this extremely well-crafted and emotionally engaged record of love-gone-wrong songs. And who better to deliver them than Costello, and one of his heroes Burt Bacharach.
Costello had covered “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” way back in 1977 when he toured his first album. But more recently in 1996, the two had collaborated on the centrepiece of the movie soundtrack for Grace of My Heart, which was their co-penned “God Give Me Strength”. A full record was not only welcome, but kind of expected too.
And here you can hear Costello come into his own as a vocalist, with Bacharach’s intricate stylings pushing him beyond his comfort zone to bring out Elvis’ torch singer side. Costello keeps the proceedings from getting too sentimental, which keeps Bacharach in check. It’s a great example of a true collaboration, when each artist walks away all the better for having been involved.
Costello has been criticized for his musical tourism, for the thought that after a few pints he’s anybody’s as far as musical collaborations go. I don’t agree. I think he’s a music fan, that’s all. He’s got an extensive record collection, and made a list of his 500 essential must-hear albums published in Vanity Fair magazine in 2000, with artists ranging from ABBA to Bartok, to the Clash, to Count Basie.
But, being Elvis Costello, he adds a dimension to his musical curiosity. When he’s in the position to make a record with an artist he admires, he takes the opportunity to do so. To me, that just an extension of his being a music fan. It’s hard to argue with that, even if you don’t approve of the results.
For more information about Elvis Costello, I’d urge you to check out his recently revamped Elvis Costello Official Site.
And for more Burt Bacharach, investigate A House Is Not A Homepage, an unofficial Burt Bacharach webpage with a cool title.