Pop: When Burt met Elvis

ON PAPER, the combination of songsmiths extraordinaires Burt Bacharah and Elvis Costello sounded a mouthwatering prospect. In concert - showcasing their Painted From Memory album on the last night of their "five-date world tour" - the pair delivered even more than expected and avoided the pitfalls of a million hyped collaborations.

Reviewing Elvis Costello at the Royal Albert Hall in the mid-Eighties, I'd hinted at the likely development of Britain's finest writer into a Frank Sinatra-type crooner. After branching out into country, classical, jazz and reviving The Attractions, Costello, aka Declan McManus, has done it. Only Burt Bacharah is proving much more than a Nelson Riddle - their collaborative album holds up pretty well alongside Sinatra's Songs For Swinging Lovers.

Of course, Old Blue Eyes never penned his own material, while Bacharah and Costello mine a rich seam of human experience, offering "songs of lost love, love gone wrong, love gone right and wrong again," as the tuxedo- wearing Elvis quipped. "Tears At The Birthday Party" sums up the bittersweet nature of the singer's observations, though, before the concert, he took time out to explain there was no clear divide between his and Bacharah's input and that "the words were often just trying to give exact meaning to the feeling emanating from the music."

After "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", even better than on the Stiff tour 21 years ago, and a few tracks from the new album, with "This House Is Empty Now" more than hinting at the past glories of Burt's "A House Is Not A Home", the grey-suited maestro directed the 25-piece orchestra through "selections from the movies".

"The Look Of Love", "Arthur's Theme", "What's New Pussycat?" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance" followed each other in a section that was a mere reprise of Bacharah's solo concerts. Costello came back for a stunning "Make It Easy On Yourself", revived the womanising Alfie for "What's Her Name Today?", and eschewed the medley approach during his own slot.

Former Attraction Steve Nieve tinkled the ivories into "Accidents Will Happen", the singer quoted "24 Hours From Tulsa" on the coda and reached new heights on the emotive "Just A Memory", originally written for Dusty Springfield.

Back to the new album and the menage a trois of "The Long Division" as Costello rhapsodied: "Three goes into two. What am I gonna do?"

Costello's torch-vocals, at times ragged in the past, soared and matched Bacharah's crescendos and glissandos on the piano while Nieve chimed bells on his keyboard. The stars, stepping to the sides in synch, left a delirious audience on its feet before encoring with the nostalgic "My Little Red Book", "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "God Give Me Strength", their original collaboration for the Allison Anders' film Grace Of My Heart which earned them a Grammy nomination in 1997.

Pierre Perrone