Cover Story [Issue
At This Time
At This Time
CD Columbia )
name resides comfortably in the rarefied company of the other 20th century pop
music masterminds such as: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard
Rodgers, and Brian Wilson.
hough most people
take for granted the fact that he is a melodic prodigy, some may not realize
the scope of his accomplishments. Among countless honors he has attained, the
prolific composer has garnered three Academy Awards for Best Song, six Grammy
Awards, nine Number One singles, and 48 Top Ten singles.
Like many of historys great songwriters, Bacharach has almost always written
with a collaborator. His most astounding period of hits came with lyricist Hal
David. In the span of a mere 16 years, the pair dashed of a seemingly endless
string of pop perfection: Raindrops Keep Fallin on My Head,
What the World Needs Now, The Look of Love, Close
to You, Alfie, Theres Always Something There to
Remind Me, and Whats New Pussycat? to name just a few.
After ending the brilliant partnership in 1973 with his lyricist, Bacharach
began collaborating with Carole Bayer Sager, with whom he wrote the Oscar-winning
song, Arthurs Theme (Best That You Can Do) and Thats
What Friends Are For. Performed by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight,
and Dionne Warwick, the song raised awareness and funds for AIDS charities in
the late -80s.
Throughout the years, Bacharachs legend continues to grow and he remains
a fixture in popular culture. He has made appearances in each of the Austin
Powers movies and has worked extensively with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Elvis
Costello, Ronald Isley, and scores of others. His songs appear in constant rotation
in film, television, and radio.
At 77 years of age, most people would have probably started slowing down or
long since retired. In a maverick move, Bacharach decided it was time to take
his writing workload up a notch. With the release of At This Time, the mastermind
wrote lyrics for the first time in his career. He observes, You could
say its a suite. A lot of this happened that words seemed to flow with
it as I wrote the music. There are no songs really from top to bottom. Theres
not an intro, then the singer comes in, and then theres an ending like
in most songs. Thats what constitutes a song. This is like observations.
One line here and there. It was very intentional.
Much of Bacharachs motivation to express his thoughts verbally was a bitter
distaste for the political events of the past several years. He laments, I
took my heartbreak for the Twin Towers and these guys getting killed in a really
useless war. So, things just took off. I was a non-political person and never
was really involved. I wanted Gore to win in 2000 and was disappointed. In 2004,
I really was very supportive of Kerry. I didnt believe in what was going
on. I detest what is going on. And how much of it had to do with these little
kids that Ive got? I have a nine-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 19-year-old.
As you can hear, I sing about them. That was important to me to refer to. What
I could do growing up and what they can do.
After a career of writing three-minute pop confections, Bacharach speaks praise
for his record companys willingness to let him go against what people
would expect from him. He explains, It was made fortunately for Sony/BMG
in Europe. The label said, Take chances, take risks, and dont try
to give us ten love songs. Its not what were looking for.
Another amazing aspect of Bacharachs approach is that he is not afraid
to involve a daringly eclectic cast of contributors in his most recent project.
Few musicians would ever assemble such a diverse array of producers and performers
for one CD. Bacharach even enlisted several urban music pioneers (Dr. Dre, Printz
Board, and Denaun Porter) to help formulate the sound he was seeking. On his
involvement with Dr. Dre , Bacharach spoke glowingly of the maverick producer,
The thing with Dre started when he was going to make his last album a
few years ago. He owed one solo album to the label and never got around to it
until this summer. Because he does Eminem and 50 Cent, hes the busiest
guy and a brilliant, brilliant producer. He wanted to meet me and I wanted to
meet him. We met and he gave me about seven drum loops and said, See what
you can come up with. I took them home and started to work on several
of them musically with synths and things like that just to take a Polaroid picture
of what it might be. I then brought it in to play it for him and he wasnt
ready to start the album. He liked it, but I knew in my heart even if he liked
it, we were somewhere out there maybe a little too far in left field. It may
have been too extreme [for him] with the harmonies and all. I told him if he
ever wanted me to do strings for him on his album, Id love to do it. Hes
a good guy.
One might be amazed to learn that the legendary songwriter faced new challenges
in working with new forms of R&B production methods. He admits, Melody
has always been my thing. It can be a little challenging with the Dre stuff
because there are [drum] loops with a bass line and the bass line keeps repeating
too. It can be hard to find harmonically because its very rigid. Youve
got to have the discipline to write totally over it [the repeating rhythmic
pattern] and most of the time, you break through. Danger, which
is one of my favorite cuts on the album, is Dres title. I took it literally
thats a dangerous bass line. I couldnt even tell you what
those notes are exactly on that bass line. I know approximately what they are,
but then you write over that. If you listen to Danger, youll
see theres a certain point where I said, Well, lets take the
loop out when it goes to a different key. Danger is a three-movement
piece. There is a beginning with the drum loop, a middle section with the violin
and no drums, and a saxophone and piano interaction with a melody. Then you
come of it back to the main theme, back to the drum loop. I dont think
that song would have survived with a drum loop all the way through it. But you
dont feel that until youre writing it and sit back and listen to
it. Its still got to be interesting to me to have a prayer to be interesting
to anybody else.
While Bacharachs primary success has always been as a composer rather
than an artist, At This Time benefits from his atypical vocal style. His singing
duties on the album primarily resemble more of a reflective spoken word meditation
while other vocalists handle the soaring melodies. As usual, his casting decisions
are spot on. Rufus Wainwright delivers a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the
plaintive melody on the track, Go Ask Shakespeare. Explaining the
process of selecting Wainwright, Bacharach notes, With Rufus, there was
a temporary vocal [track] on there at the end, just myself singing it. I played
Go Ask Shakespeare for [executive at Sony/BMG in the UK] Rob Stringer
in Italy last summer when there were four tracks done on this album and Rufus
came up immediately to his mind and my mind. He was a little to the left of
center, nothing obvious. I sent Rufus the rough mix with me singing. He loved
it and said, Im on. Count me in. So, thats how we got
Chris Botti also delivers a stunningly melodic trumpet interpretation of At
This Times instrumental gem, In Our Time. Possibly the greatest
guest appearance on the CD belongs to the maestros old friend, Elvis Costello.
Bacharach recalls, Elvis . . . Ive had some history with Elvis.
We did the From Memory album and I am very amazed by his work. I sent him Who
Are These People? with a temporary vocal of myself [singing] in Italy
over the summer. Elvis said, Of course Ill do it, I love it!
Considering his last truly solo release was 1977s Futures, it would be
understandable if Burt Bacharach had lost the wherewithal to create such a focused
effort. However, one has to imagine that if Burt Bacharach still has the ability
to appeal to musics giants past and present, he still knows how to push
the buttons and pull at the heartstrings.
At This Time