Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach "Painted From Memory" Finally AAA

A heavenly pairing of Bacharach's suburban pop melodic intent and Costello's insightful lyrics that well-capture the required Bacharach late afternoon bedroom melodrama produced this 1998 gem of a soap operatic collaboration.

Yes, on one level the mind is programmed for and longs to hear Dionne Warwick crooning the regretful lyrics to "This House is Empty Now", but on the big crescendos Costello pulls it off with his stretchy, somewhat strained vibrato and sells the drama.Fans of Bacharach/David will find this an easy, tear-drenched fit and love every minute.

Labels these days hardly have the budgets for sumptuous productions like this one. There's a big string section, brass and woodwinds and of course Burt's grand piano too, most recorded and mixed by Kevin Killen at Oceanway and all of it to analog tape.

Then why did the original CD sound so congested, dry and tonally bleached? Do I have to answer that? If you're a fan of this on CD, your eyes will pop out of your head when you finally hear what's on the tape, beginning with Jim Keltner's rim shots on the opener that on the CD are buried and bleached.

"I'm not saying there will be violins but don't be surprised if they appear". What a great line from "Such Unlikely Lovers" and when they do on this superbly mastered record, even if for years you have enjoyed the CD, you will be surprised. In fact, there are sonic surprises throughout as buried instruments surface and shine. What a shame to have had these stellar arrangements underwater for so long.

That's all history now that we have this limited edition LP cut from the original analog tape. Bacharach fans rejoice. Fans of Costello's punkier days may have some trouble adjusting to the French horn melancholy and Bacharach's occasional Liberace flourish but not me! I love all of El's stuff and this one finally correctly presented is among his choice gems.

The sonic presentation is relatively dry and very intimate and rich drawn as you'd expect and hope for from a late afternoon Bacharach melodrama?

Limited to 3000 copies. History repeats the old conceits and when this one's gone it will be gone and you might live to regret not getting it, even if today the melodrama seems too thick (be prepared for some sloppy sibilants if your set-up is not precise and/or your cartridge can't handle the transients).

Music Direct Buy It Now

AnalogJ's picture

A couple of things Michael -

1) This is a largely quite densely orchestrated album with many instances of macro-dynamics - big sweeping musical, orchestral statements.

2) Each side is about 27 minutes. Not the greatest for really opening up sonically.

Yes, this LP is VERY impressive next to the CD. But, the first couple of cuts on each side is when you REALLY hear the potential for this medium for this album. As the needle progresses toward the inner groove, you can hear the sound getting a bit more clenched, a little less open. The songs near the inner groove don't nearly have the incredible sonic breadth that the songs have nearer the outside of the disc. (And perhaps my 9" VPI tonearm does't do the inside of the record as much justice as a 12" tonearm with Shibata stylus would).

Oh, how this album is so ripe for a 45rpm treatment, where every song could get the breathing space, and where a 54 minute disc wouldn't have to be compromised.

Still, anyone who is interested in this terrific, off-beat collaboration, get this LP. If MoFi ever does a 45rpm of this, I'll be on it. But

Rudy's picture

Yes, I would probably buy into a 45RPM cut myself. I just got the vinyl on Friday and it is indeed a very nice piece of work, in terms of how it was cut. But I can hear a small bit of that compression myself (10" arm, MicroRidge stylus on a Dynavector XX2 Mk.II). It's very subtle, but in all honesty I hear this across other records that have a lot of time packed in per side, whether or not they are audiophile cuts or not. It's just the nature of the beast, if you will--packing the same frequency "waves" in the vinyl into a tighter space as you approach the middle of the record.

I have a Pat Metheny record (Letter From Home) that if I'm not mistaken, approaches 30 minutes per side and actually sounds quite good considering how much they crammed on there. And don't get me wrong, they've done a great job on this title. 45RPM, though...man, that would take this clear over the top.

After hearing the test pressing at AXPONA, I have the feeling this was done at MoFi as a labor of love by Costello fanatics. I heard the first demo of it (the Music Direct room was one of the first we visited after the show opened), and the person giving the demo really went in depth as to why he personally liked this recording.

I am still getting the SACD of this anyway, but the vinyl is also a keeper.

AnalogJ's picture

Yup. PMG's Letter From Home is a lovely album, but dynamics suffer a bit on that album. The previous album (and first on Geffen), Still Life Talking, was a normal length album and sounds great. But Still Life Talking was made for the then burgeoning CD market. Rather than putting it on 2 LPs, as Geffen had done for Pat Metheny's Secret Story (or even the live The Road To You), they tried cramming it onto one LP. Not good. If you can find a copy of The Road To You (or Secret Story), the LP sets stomp over the CDs.

In the case of Painted From Memory, releasing this on 2 LPs, whether at 33 or 45, would really do this album better justice.

Rudy's picture

I think my better "Letter From Home" might be a West German pressing. I do recall the US Geffen sounding more pinched, and having surfaces that were not as quiet. I believe the West German cut may be at a slightly lower volume.

Agreed on "Secret Story." But I can't find a better copy that is affordable at the moment. I wish Pat would reissue it on vinyl, but I don't think that will happen. My buddy sent me his old copy of this which is not the quietest around (visually I'd say it is VG at best--it has more than a few very light but audible scratches on it), and despite the noise it is a very nice sounding cut.

Some of those old ECM pressings were fantastic BTW.

I have two of Pat's newer albums on vinyl. Orchestrion is a superb pressing but sadly, Kin (<-->) is a bit noisy. Still a very nice cut though. It kept most of the dynamics of the digital version (24/96 here, and I admit it also sounds impressive).

AnalogJ's picture

I have the German copy. Marginally better, but too long for really good dynamics.

LCBIII's picture

This is my all time favorite recording, right now :) Sonically and musically; a times it can actually take your breath away. Music Direct is sold out but there Ebay sellers with sealed copies.

Rudy's picture

I found mine via an Amazon third party seller. With shipping, cost was no more than buying it singly from Music Direct. No price gouging there...yet.

elmore244's picture

This is one of my favorite albums and I played the CD ad nauseum. When I came across the vinyl version about a month ago, I did not hesitate and ordered it immediately. I have not been disappointed. This is a wonderful treatment of this classic album and have no criticism other than it's too short! Sonically, it's one of the better MOFI albums I own. A big, big thumbs up!

Philt56's picture

I see a mofi sacd is scheduled. I wonder how it with compare with the vinyl. Amazon and other sites say the vinyl is backordered so I wonder if there will be any more prints made available?

AnalogJ's picture

When they state 3000 as their maximum number of pressings, it doesn't mean that they press them all at the same time. They can start with, hypothetically, 1000, and see how it goes. If there is demand, they can print more. But the maximum number is partly arrived at by the agreement between the record company and the reissuing company.

audiof001's picture

#532, so I'm quite happy.

Glotz's picture

and never warmed to it, despite having 98% of Elvis' recordings. Live in '83 Punch the Clock tour was my first, at 14. 4 of us teenagers almost got hit by a taxi in downtown Milwaukee when we saw Elvis' ruby red oxfords gleaming in the August sun! The look on his face was pure terror, though we didn't fear the slightest.. it was Elvis! He was super nice and easy going.

I think I need to revisit this sucker before it disappears.
Sounds like 'This offer is unrepeatable"..!

Rudy's picture

I'm a big Bacharach/David fan and this one never quite happened for me. But after hearing the demo of the test pressing at AXPONA in the Music Direct/MoFi room, it got me to listen to the CD again when I got back home, and track by track over the course of a couple of months, it has become a strong favorite of both Bacharach and Costello for me.

Keep in mind that the CD may not sound all that good, largely to it being an HDCD. There is a way to "decode" it and save it as a 24-bit/44.1kHz file, which I did, and it does hint at the potential this recording has. It does sound a bit more natural when played with the HDCD decoded.

With MoFi offering this as both vinyl and SACD, I am prepared to get both. I've been waiting to read reviews on the vinyl version, so I'm glad to see it mentioned here. I didn't think this would sell very well, but it seems I need to order up at least the vinyl version very quickly now.

Rudy's picture

A couple of things I noticed.

First, like mentioned earlier, this should have been cut across three sides, or done as 45RPM on four sides. Things do get pinched a bit throughout this record (and I'm running an XX2, so it's not an equipment limitation).

The vinyl is also not quiet. It does not have ticks or pops, but that constant background noise. I have other MoFi records that are dead silent. This one is not. The test pressing I heard at AXPONA? Also dead silent. This music needs a silent background.

It's issues like this that keep me from really buying many more new records lately. Tired of screwing around having to return shoddy product (and some stores won't even take it back).

I'm getting the SACD of this title and dumping the vinyl. Sorry. I'll miss out on the sonics a bit, but at least I won't be pissed off at having wasted $35-ish each time I play it.

thomoz's picture

Now if we could only get Bryan Ferry's "As Time Goes By" on vinyl!