Costello Hopes Young Bennett Can Pump Up His Career
Can the same magic that made Tony Bennett hip for the ‘90s spark new life for another veteran crooner--Elvis Costello?
That’s the hope for Costello, who has signed on with Bennett’s manager--and son--Danny Bennett. For those who remember Costello as the angry young man of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the strategy that helped make the older Bennett a favorite of the MTV generation might seem like a strange fit. But Danny Bennett sees a lot of similarities.
With his son’s management guidance, Bennett transformed his image from conservative and out-of-touch to classy and timeless without altering his musical approach, via such efforts as the Grammy-winning “MTV Unplugged” album featuring duets with k.d. lang, Costello and others.
Costello has also been largely outside the pop currents as he’s explored a variety of disciplines from rock to neo-classical in recent years. Costello’s musical course is likely to be as curvy as ever under a new, unique deal with PolyGram that has the musician signed with Mercury for pop releases and PolyGram’s Classic & Jazz division for other ventures.
But Danny Bennett believes perceptions can be altered.
“What I lend to this is [the ability] to prepare people for what albums he will actually produce,” says Bennett, who last year served as U.S. manager for Jamiroquai and also handles an eclectic roster of rock acts, including Rasputina and the Candy Butcher.
“In the past it’s sort of been sprung on people, who are left with the question, ‘Is this a real Elvis Costello album?’ I think they are all Elvis Costello albums.”
First up is a collaboration with another artist of Tony Bennett’s generation who has been subject to recent reevaluation--Burt Bacharach. The album, tentatively titled “Painted by Memory,” is being finished now in Los Angeles.
“The edge Elvis brings to Burt’s beautiful arrangements really goes through you,” Danny Bennett says. “It’s a really exciting record.”
Plans are also being made for a later companion album, featuring such guests as Cassandra Wilson doing interpretations of the “Memory” songs, to be released through the jazz-oriented Verve label.
Bennett, though, is realistic about Costello’s commercial potential. Despite continuing respect and acclaim, he’s never racked up substantial album sales. None of his ‘90s albums have broken the 200,000 mark, with 1994’s “Brutal Youth” doing the best at 181,000 and his most recent new release, 1996’s “All This Useless Beauty,” selling just 103,000.
Bennett says that getting high on the charts is not the goal, but rather success in the long run.
“Tony has always said that he never went for hit records, but a hit catalog,” Bennett says. “That’s the essence of it right there.”