Richard W. Williams | Glastonbury, Ct. USA | 04/17/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Studio, that is... And WHAT music!!! I can understand one's disappointment upon hearing this and expecting another Elvis Costello collection. This isn't! This is a Declan MacManus disk all the way..."Julliet Letters" was one of the most brilliant collections of music to escape the 90's, and that was just about as far from being an Elvis Costello album as you can get. What made that so special was the concept, the musicians and the songs. Same here.Whoever picked these songs really knows good music. These are some of the best "pop" songs ever written. von Otter's stunning voice melts perfectly into the spare sprinkling of melodic and/or harmonic accents Costello occasionally adds.It's been suggested that von Otter's voice lacks the "soul" required to perform anything other than opera. Words seldom come more ambiguous or open to interpretation than the word "soul". This disk reeks soul; the soul of a beautiful voice singing gorgeous songs with perfect acompaniment; the souls of some of the best songwriters that ever lived; the soul of one of the greatest recording studio's on earth. The soul of Elvis/Declan Costello/MacManus...There are probably no past or future "hits" here, but there isn't a song included that isn't, in some way, truly fantastic.The "medely" of Waits's "Broken Bicycles with McCartney's "Junk" is as surprising as it is pretty. Ron Sexsmith's "April after all" has it's best treatment ever here. Lennon/McCartney's "For no one" sounds eerie and fresh, in spite of it being covered often, and by some fairly important musicians in just the past few years. All the songs ofer skewered but lovely interpretations. All demand repeated listening.It took some nerve for a lesser known (here) Swedish operatic diva to team up with a post punk post pop post rock post classical genius and come up with a beautiful collection of mighty pop. Mighty like a rose..."
Simple honest and hauntingly beautiful
email@example.com | England | 04/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched the ITV South Bank documentary on the making of this collaboration and was capitivated by the utter charm and grace of von Otter and her hauntingly beautiful voice on the tracks that were shown being recorded.I have wide musical tastes, including opera. Elvis is an old time favourite but somehow von Otter had escaped under the radar. So after watching the programe I did a search for the album and purchased it straight away (amazon.co.uk.)Since then I have played it constantly and it never fails to lift and capitivate me. The pathos of love and life seems to be the theme. My favorites are the 2 Brian Wilson songs, but there is not one dud track.The quality of the recording is stunning (done in the world famous Atlantis studios) every intonation, inflection and breath is discernable not to mention Sophie's charming pronunciation difficulties.All involved in this recording are sympathetic to musical project and to achieving the best they can. The recording sounds simple and honest but one which much hard work and expertise has gone into.Go buy and treasure.Thank you Sophie, thank you Elvis."
Elvis and Anne Sofie Gain a New Fan
Tunes & Harmony | Austin, TX USA | 06/05/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am a trained musician. My only acquaintance with Elvis Costello was witnessing him on Saturday Night Live during the punk era. Until now, I'd never paid attention to Anne Sofie Von Otter. Listening at almost the height of my ignorance of both these musicians' work affords me to focus on the music as music, not in the context of any culmination of this or that. I enjoy this compilation most when imagining it as my fantasy of hearing perfect live music. I visualize sitting with my wife at a stage front table in a comfortably lit, smoke free bar, sparsely populated with music lovers, and with the performers just a few feet away. The volume level is comfortable, the instruments are unmiked, and Anne Sofie stands in front of our table singing as if we were the only audience. I clearly hear every breath and sibilant. That's just how clean are the production values of the eighteen songs that comprise For the Stars. Assuming Elvis Costello had ultimate say so in the final mix, it's apparent that he worships Anne Sofie's voice, mixing it one level or so louder than the backup instruments. On some songs, I strain to hear and enjoy arrangements and orchestration. But listening to Anne Sofie, it becomes clear why she deserves to be the focal point. Her transition from mezzo soprano to pop vocalist is 95% complete. Gone is the heavy operatic throatiness. What's left contains magic. The remnants of a classically trained voice are refreshingly exposed through flawless diction, inspired phrasing, and buttery smooth breath control. She is so good I can enjoy the music even when not listening to it. Costello's unique voice and vocal style is another story. I confess I've not gotten used to it. Although not unpleasant, its remnants seem to be from the punk era. The production of his tone includes some goofiness, and he employs a pulsing Bee Gee-like vibrato. These are much less distracting to me now than when I first heard him, and I'm able to focus on what his singing adds to the music. And it adds considerably. Elvis wisely chose to limit his singing to backup roles throughout most of the album. When he does come to the forefront, his voice has more the function of adding pepper and spice to the gourmet recipe of Anne Sofie's voice and tasteful orchestration. Standout songs include two from Brian Wilson's landmark Pet Sounds album, "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)" and "You Still Believe in Me." Over the years I've unsuccessfully searched for examples of other musicians performing these incredibly gorgeous songs; such covers must be rare, and maybe until now nonexistent. Elvis and Anne Sofie make the complex "Don't Talk" seem simple, stripping it of all but the most basic orchestration, exposing its raw beauty and masterful writing. In deference to the song's creator, neither line nor chord is changed. After thirty five years, although I've never grown tired of Brian Wilson's own performance, I cannot describe how satisfying it is to hear the piece with new ears. "Don't Talk" always deserved liberation from the Pet Sounds suite as a standalone standard. The Costello and Von Otter rendition may just give it that chance. All the songs are good! My other standouts are as follows: Burt Bacharach and Costello's "This House is Empty Now" has a catchy tune and well-paced harmonies. At first I did not peg this as a Bacharach piece, but it's all clear now. I've always felt Bacharach had a quirky knack for keeping angst out of music with sad themes. Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus's (ABBA) "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room," is a crystal clear rendition of a pretty poem set to pretty music. Benny Andersson's sensitive piano technique is noteworthy. Tom Waits' and Kathleen Brennan's "Take It With Me" is the second of Wait's songs on this album. It is so pretty, so touching, with lyrics as well written as popular standards. Now I've got to go learn about Tom Waits. Costello's "For the Stars" is an uplifting romp with mediocre lyrics, but the music finishes the album in rousing celebration. I reserve my five star ratings for timeless "desert island" CDs. This one is not quite there, but I know I'll listen it over and over, probably for years."
Timothy P. Young | Rawlins, WY, USA | 10/26/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Truthfully, I had found Costello's previous collaborations to be too arty and bloodless, in the end. Juliet Letters was too dry, and he gave Painted From Memory over to Burt very early on. Not so here.
What he offers here for Ms. Von Otter is much more collaborative than previously. True, the arrangements are never truly inspired, with the exception of the duets between Elvis and Sofie. What DOES happen is that we get to hear old material in new ways (Broken Bicycles/Junk) and Elvis material being sung by someone who can hit the notes (I Want to Vanish, which surpasses the original on All This Useless Beauty).
Von Otter's beautiful voice soars, dips, ripples through the arrangements prepared by Costello. It's truly brilliant listening. Her operatic background serves her well, and Costello does a great job of choosing songs for her that can stretch her wonderful abilities as an interpreter.
But, such an egomaniac as Costello can't leave himself out, can he? He wrote lots of the album himself, and saves the title track for a stunning duet that pairs VonOtter's lovely, soaring trills with his own pungent, declarative voice. For the Stars (the song) is worth 10 stars out of 5 for this incredible juxtaposition, and the rest of the album ain't bad, either.
A bit dry at times, but wonderful overall, especially as an into to Ms. Von Otter. Transcendant, tasteful, muted jazz-pop."