Don’t Look NowBurt Bacharach / Elvis Costello, 2018
Don’t look now, don’t you dare
I’m not decent, go sit over there
Would you rather I was draped in priceless fur?
‘Cause there’s nothing else to wear
Don’t look now
I saw you shoot that glance
I said don’t peek
At the sway of my dance
And the length of my limb
And the brush of my cheek
Okay, look at me now
What do you see?
I see you looking at me
Looking at how you looking at me
I know what you’re thinking
I can read your mind
Oh, I promise, I’ll be good this time
Now I wonder what you see
Will you be thinking of me?
Later on, when you’re alone
Are you ever alone in longing?
I’ll sit here silent and still
See if I’m breaking your will
I see you looking at me
Looking at how you’re looking at me
Oh, don’t look at me now
Elvis Costello all but gave up recording at the end of the aughts, decrying the state of the music biz and then doing battle with cancer last summer. During his self-imposed studio exile, he toured a bit and kept his eye on the other sort of stage: Broadway. He had two theatrical projects in the works with Burt Bacharach, one based on their classic album Painted From Memory (1998), and the other an musical adaptation of the cynical film A Face In The Crowd (1957). None of these came to fruition, but their pieces are used for Look Now, Costello’s album from last year where he plays again with his band The Imposters.
Inspired by Dusty Springfield‘s classic, Dusty In Memphis (1969), Costello fashioned an album from these theatre songs. They carry Costello’s signature wit with not a vestige of his anger. Under Lime, the dazzling first cut, is a miniature five-minute musical about an old washed-up musician and a young female production assistant as they negotiate a problematic liaison backstage at a talk show, with wordplay so witty that the title’s “lime” manages to represent stage lights, booze and the grave.
The songs on Look Now take on the bittersweet plights and prospects of their protagonists, always rendered with gentleness. How interesting at that 64-years-old, in the era of heightened awareness of gender injustice and the perils of appropriation, Costello decided to record eight of the 12 songs on Look Now from female characters’ points of view.
In Stripping Paper, a wife whose marital vows have proved “hollow” strips away their home’s wallpaper to discover the whole history of the relationship revealed layer by layer.
Unwanted Number is a girl group–type tearjerker that Costello wrote for the film Grace Of My Heart (1996) which is a thinly disguised version of Carole King’s life as a Brill Building songwriter in the 1960s.
Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter is song that Costello wrote with King herself two decades ago, about a divorced woman looking back at each step of her ex-husband’s love slipping away.
In a song Costello composed for the overlooked movie Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (2017), which movingly has a Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), a self-conscious older woman, telling an infatuated younger man (Jamie Bell):You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way.
Look Now is a triumph, a showcase of subtle sophistication and palpable flair. It’s an album worth spending time with and getting lost within. Look Now is out now on Concord Records.