Sunday, November 27, 2005

MUSIC: Walk On Burt

Burt Bacharach's new album At This Time is clearly one for the Burt fanatics. This particular fanatic found equal pleasures and frustrations throughout, often in the context of the same song. The big to do about this record is that at the age of 77, Bacharach is pissed at the state of the political climate of the country and therefore has been moved to write lyrics for the first time in his legendary career. Of course his lyrics aren't very good, but I'm certainly not going to take issue with the obvious sincere musings of a very old man worried about the type of world he'll be leaving to his very young children. Thankfully they're pretty easy to ignore, as they come off more as snippets of overheard conversations one might hear at one of Burt's exclusive cocktail parties at his Malibu beach house rather than actual lyrics.

So then it's on to why any Burt fanatic is listening in the first place: the melodies as only he can write them, and how he chooses to orchestrate and arrange them. The good news is there are plenty of those great melodies throughout, all very similar in shape and feel to those from the record Burt made a few years ago with Elvis Costello. Where the album runs into it's difficulties is it's split between classic complex Bacharach orchestrations and arrangements, and borderline smooth jazz. Granted, no one is probably going to do borderline smooth jazz better than Burt, but...

And there there's the singing. Burt sing-speaks here and there, coming off like a really awful version of the Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan. Ironic in that the Dr. Dre provided drum loops on some of the cuts combined with Bacharach's orchestration result in tracks very reminiscent of the Blue Nile, leaving one longing to hear Buchanan sing this entire album, which he probably would've in a heartbeat if he had been asked. Instead we're stuck with Elvis Costello, who should be taken out back and shot for his yelping on "Who Are These People?". Costello's limited vocal range has found him in way over his head with Bacharach material before, but never more than on this one, where he simply drowns in it. Rufus Wainwright fares better with his guest vocal spot on "Go Ask Shakespeare", but in the end offers nothing special to the song other than a hey--- it's Rufus and he's singing a Burt melody.

Like I said, this album's for the fanatics, but there are pleasures to be found within if you are one. It's perfectly good background music for a drive through the country or for reading Frank Rich's column in the Sunday New York Times on the deck of your Malibu beach house...

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