Elvis Costello and The Roots: Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Elvis Costello and The Roots

Wise Up Ghost

Blue Note

Sep 30, 2013 Issue #47 - September/October 2013 - MGMT Bookmark and Share


For fans of Elvis Costello, the notion of his pairing with The Roots' Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson should not be particularly shocking. Costello has made his name with a series of unconventional musical decisions, dating back to the blue-eyed soul of 1980's Get Happy!! and the old time country of 1981's Almost Blue, to his collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint on 1998's Painted from Memory and 2006's The River In Reverse, respectively. For Thompson, the pairing is slightly more of a surprise. Yes, The Roots are the most forward leaning hip-hop group of the past 20 years and Thompson is a renowned music expert. Few may have known, however, about his love of Costello's work.

From the hip hop/funk groove of the opener, "Walk Us UPTOWN," it is obvious that the players didn't enter into this collaboration faint of heart. That track segues into the string intro and deep soul bass beat of "SUGAR Won't Work," with Costello almost speak-singing the verses and crooning the choruses like a James Brown-inspired version of something off All This Useless Beauty. "Come the MEANTIMES" is dark funk, with Costello's incessant lyrical questioning punctuated by the music's stop/start pace and furious electric guitar solo through the song's final minute. The title track is menacing, Costello's vocals ranging from a whisper to a growl over gentle orchestration and assertive electric guitar. And the album ends with Costello emoting and demonstrating his trademark vocal vibrato over piano and understated drums on "If I Could BELIEVE." Wise Up Ghost is beautifully produced, each song a soul symphony, beats and voice simply jumping from the speakers.

Lyrically, Costello demonstrates his genius talents with incisive commentary and brilliant wordplay, him having described the album in the press as an "End of Days theme park." On the opening track, his ire is clear, with a sarcastic wink, as he demands: "Uncross your fingers and take out some insurance." On "TRIPWIRE," he sings cryptically of "the twist in the script of an insult scrawled on the back of your hand," later commenting: "I thought there was more to forgiveness than all we conveniently forget."

In all, Wise Up Ghost achieves something much greater than the sum of its parts. Costello and Thompson seem made for each other. Let's hope they don't let this collaboration end here. (www.elviscostello.com, www.theroots.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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