Elvis Costello’s New Single Sounds Like An Edgy Burt Bacharach Ballad

Elvis Costello released a new single this week, an event that will always grab my attention because he is one of the great Rock songwriters of all time. Not that everything he has written is brilliant, far from it. A lot of his stuff is wordy and overwritten and clunky. But he is incredibly prolific, having churned out more than 30 studio albums in a 40-year career, and there is a lot of brilliance among the dreck. If he had culled the best of his creative output into, say, ten albums he would be spoken of in the same breath as the very best in the business. But it obviously doesn’t work that way.

It actually appears that Costello’s creative tap is running a little slower than it used to, since he hasn’t released a new album to follow 2013’s excellent collaboration with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost And Other Songs. Since then he has been collaborating on other projects and issuing the odd single, and many of them have turned out pretty well too. This week’s single was made for the upcoming movie Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, starring Annette Bening as the eccentric actress Gloria Grahame.

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It’s an early-Sixties period piece about showbiz, and Costello fills the bill with a song that sounds like an old-time pop standard from Burt Bacharach, a writer who Costello admires greatly and once collaborated with in the late-Nineties. Rock & Roll it ain’t, but anyone who can appreciate a well-written song will surely enjoy it. I actually think it’s even better than any of the stuff he did with Bacharach.

“You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way” is perhaps a little edgier lyrically than the usual Bacharach/David material, but then again nobody has ever expressed a sneering bitterness better than Elvis Costello – it’s his go-to emotion, and it keeps the song from becoming sappy:

Time among all of your enemies
Leaves you nothing but bitter memories
From the first blush of affection
To avoiding your own reflection
You shouldn’t look at me,
You shouldn’t look at me that way

The lyric cleverly plays on the different ways the title phrase could be used, and cleverness is something we’ve come to expect in everything Costello does. But the melody is also top drawer stuff, and the whole thing comes together very nicely. If you watch this a couple of times, you will have trouble restraining yourself from singing the big finish out loud. You know you’ve got a good song on your hands when you want to sing it after one listen, even if you can’t sing.

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