Burt and Elvis’s lost musical is a fitting swansong for a pop genius
WHEN Burt Bacharach died, the tributes to his genius focused on the pop hits — Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, The Look of Love and countless others — crafted with lyricist Hal david in the 1960s.
Combining poise and emotional power, they cemented his role as the king of romantic easy listening. But he wasn’t just a giant of the Swinging Sixties. He worked long into his old age and forged a formidable alliance with Elvis Costello. The two initially collaborated in 1995, co-writing God Give Me Strength for the film comedy Grace of My Heart, and were still making music together as recently as September 2021 in Hollywood.
It wasn’t an obvious partnership. Bacharach’s classic songs conjured up images of jet- set parties and wide American freeways; Costello began his career as an angry young man who channelled the energy of punk into singles like Pump It up. But the two shared a love of classic songwriting and Costello grew up in Liverpool listening to Bacharach-penned music on the BBC’s Light Programme. A new anthology, The Songs of Bacharach & Costello, contains every tune the pair wrote together, many previously unreleased.
In the works before Bacharach’s death at 94 last month, it features 1998’s Painted From Memory album in full, plus songs from 2018’s Look Now and live takes. The duo played live together only rarely ( the Painted From Memory tour comprised just five shows), but there are still some choice live cuts here, including a tender rendition of the Walker Brothers’ Make It Easy on Yourself and a Costello version of I Just don’t Know What To do With Myself from the height of punk in 1977.
But it’s the unreleased material that’s of the greatest interest. When director Chuck Lorre and writer Steven Sater came up with plans for a Broadway musical based on Painted From Memory, Bacharach and Costello wrote more than a dozen additional songs for the project. The musical was never made, but the score survives — and many of its songs appear for the first time here. Some — Taken From Life, You Can Have Her and Look up Again — are sung by Costello. others feature female guests Jenni Muldaur and Audra Mae, the great-great-niece of Judy Garland. With Costello describing the set of characters portrayed as being ‘unfaithful, dishonest, destructive . . . romantically deluded, desperate, vengeful and even cruel,’ it’s not all sweetness and light.
There are ‘rumours of wild affairs’ on Look up Again, a torch song worthy of Cole Porter, while Muldaur plays a vamp to perfection on cabaret number Shameless.
Bacharach’s melodies are wonderfully nuanced. Taken From Life (a 2022 recording by Elvis and The Imposters) makes some surprising turns and there are bold changes of mood and tempo on You Can Have Her.
Bacharach was a master of using complex, jazzy chords while making a song sound simple.
We even get to hear him sing, his cracked voice straining to hit the high notes on a touchingly intimate demo for a song called Lie Back & Think of England, penned for a proposed stage adaptation of Austin Powers.
He wasn’t a natural vocalist. But as one of pop’s greatest composers, producers and pianists, he didn’t have to be — and this compendium is a fitting swansong.
You’d be forgiven for thinking of bands such as The Lathums as Britain’s forgotten music makers.
With the singles chart dominated by TikTok-friendly pop and dance, what price a grassroots guitar group from Wigan? Yet there’s a feeling the tide might be turning back to traditional bands with a sense of purpose that stretches beyond the desire for stardom.
This year has seen The Courteeners (from Manchester) and The Reytons (from Rotherham) top the albums chart, and The Lathums did likewise with their debut, How Beautiful Life Can Be, in 2021.
With all of the above hailing from the North of England, these successes are down in part to loyal regional followings.
But The Lathums are also being heard further afield. Paul Weller and Louis Tomlinson are fans, and The Killers covered the title track of How Beautiful Life Can Be on tour. Second album From Nothing To A Little Bit More should consolidate these gains. Produced by Arctic Monkeys collaborator Jim Abbiss, it’s a step up, with singer Alex Moore charting the course of a doomed relationship against a backdrop of chiming guitars. There’s a touch of self- pity, but any gloomy lyrics are offset by muscular riffs that echo The Jam and The Smiths.
With doo-wop chords and finger snaps on I Know, and an ambitious, eight-minute closing track in undeserving, there’s also a feeling that the quartet are moving forward.
It looks as if Wigan’s biggest musical export since The Verve are about to get even bigger.
The Songs Of Bacharach & Costello is out as a double CD (£15), double vinyl LP (£44), deluxe 2-CD/4-LP box set (£194), and digitally. The Lathums start a tour on March 6 (gigsandtours.com).