Baby, It's Him

How can Burt Bacharach make a comeback when he never went away?

"He's a good risk-taker, a serious risk-taker," Bacharach says of Costello. "He takes his chances, like with the Brodsky Quartet. He's got a group of hard-core people who are his fans, and they're going to say, 'Damn it, Burt Bacharach? The king of the middle of the road writing with Elvis? But it's an interesting thing. ... He's a brilliant lyricist -- I won't even suggest a word to him, because he's one of the great, great writers -- and musically, he brings to certain songs more than others a distinctly Elvis core.

"Hal basically did his work with the lyrics. With Elvis, things spill over into the music. I think that the possibility of a tour is really intriguing with Elvis. We've talked about it, and it's going to be a hell of a tour once the album is out. Elvis will do his chunk of what people expect him to, then I do my chunk, then we wind up doing an hour together."

Bacharach might well have disappeared during the late 1970s and '80s; save for a few soundtrack contributions, including "Arthur's Theme," he seemed to stumble along without Hal David, who had an acrimonious split with his partner that resulted in a lawsuit long since forgotten. Bacharach's output, once so complex, turned into Muzak; the grand orchestras gave way to tinny keyboards, and the depth felt suddenly very shallow.

The album with Costello could change all that; "Grace of My Heart," which also appears on Live on Letterman: Music From the Late Show (the new album of music from The Late Show With David Letterman), is not a flawless gem, but it does more than simply remind us of what once was. The Elvis-Burt record could herald the genuine Bacharach comeback -- instead of paying tribute to the past, we might be able to celebrate a bright present.

Not that Bacharach isn't above a little homage: In April, he will gather a dozen singers -- the likely roster so far includes Costello, Warwick, Oasis' Noel Gallagher, and Luther Vandross -- for a special to be taped in New York City and broadcast on TNT. They will recite all the sacred texts one more time, and Bacharach will make sure they get it right.

"I like performing these songs," he says, smiling. "It's not like I walk down the streets in Santa Monica and get a standing ovation, you know? A composer always has contact with his audience, but it's not like performing. The fact that I'm recognizable to people, that they come up in airports and on planes and say, 'I really like your music' -- what more could you want?

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