Torch songs should do one of two things: inflame your loins or break your heart. So why is it Diana Krall does neither?
Krall is just another singer/pianist with an exceptional face. Yet Krall's loveliness has always lacked a come-hitherness, as if her heart belonged to childhood piano lessons rather than to creative ambition. Her earlier, embarrassing attempts at naughty wriggling--"Popsicle Toes" and "Peel Me a Grape," in particular--elicit nothing so much as nausea.
Krall is now Elvis Costello's wife and songwriting vehicle. It's got a good engine, and the clutch is tidy enough, but like any sports car you replace your old clunker with, it's thoroughly lacking in charm and history. There are a few curves, sure: Covers of Tom Waits' "Temptation" and Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow" are two of them. But take away the gin-soaked grit of the former and the edgy soprano of the latter, and you'd better replace it with something other than Barbie's Playhouse Piano-Jazz Bar.
Costello contributes lyrics to six new songs, which many critics will characterize as "literate." They are not. Costello long ago ceased to be an interesting songwriter when he settled into his role as craftsman.
In Costello and Krall's hands, torch songs barely smolder.
Here are some contemporary, heartbreaking torch songs you must absolutely track down: Verbena's "Dirty Goodbyes" (from La Musica Negra), Black Box Recorder's "I Ran All the Way Home" (from Passionoia) and Amy Correia's "Falling Out of Love" (from Carnival Love). Happy hunting.