What better gauge of our growing dissatisfaction with Bush country than witnessing America’s most beloved melody maker suddenly scribbling his frustrations and personal politics on a lyric sheet after more than a half-century of silence? And then having Sony tell him he’s gotta take out the “F” word.
Bacharach’s music has been persistently misidentified as easy-listening, but it has always been the polar opposite: highly emotional, at times discomfiting, and occasionally angry. Perhaps the most outraged of all standards is “What the World Needs Now,” in which lyricist Hal David took the Lord to task for providing us with less love than places to hike and fish. With At This Time, Bacharach and lyric collaborator Tonio K hark back to that earlier lyric for a cycle of songs already described as an elder statesman’s What’s Going On. Like Marvin Gaye on his opus, Bacharach maintains a mood of quiet contemplation throughout, with a plea to save the children, more specifically his own children.
On “Where Did It Go,” Bacharach imbues the melody with a sadness that’s too palpable to be notated on sheet music, as if he’s thinking the words for the first time as they tumble out of him. On “Who Are These People,” he rails at the neo-cons who keep lying to us, “even pretending to pray and getting away with it.” Elvis Costello guests here, and while his tendency to shoot for the least accessible notes in his range for dramatic effect has become commonplace, here it could just be overcompensation for the excised “F” word. Besides, he has to compete with Bacharach’s most ominous orchestration since his incidental score for Lost Horizon.
| At This Time
Despite the serious tone of this largely orchestral album, the appearance of trademark Bacharach instrumentation—mixed with R&B touches like Dr. Dre drum loops and lite-jazz solos—suggests a comfortable lightheartedness his work hasn’t demonstrated since his days at A&M. We just hope he’s sitting down with a cool drink when he discovers that Sony/BMG saddled his first record in decades with copy-protection software that’s pissing off consumers, causing retailers to recall albums, and leaving fans’ home computers open to hackers. Guess what the world needs now is better firewall protection, too. •
– Serene Dominic