Elvis Costello and The Roots New Album: Wise Up Ghost

BitCandy: By Drudzins. 17th September 2013.

Elvis Costello is a mainstay of groovy, soul-fueled rock and roll music. Since 1977’s My Aim is True the bespectacled rocker with the steady, unwavering voice has been an unmistakable and unmoving presence on the world music stage. However, this is decidedly not the Costello of yesteryear. Wise Up Ghost showcases Elvis through his most topical and most sincere music in years. Crafting a thoughtfully balanced blend of old and new, rock and hip-hop, Costello weaves through discussions about fear, politics, the military, faith and patriotism while avoiding heavy-handed polemic and vitriol. Oh yeah, the music is pretty damn good too.

Written closely with Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and producer Steven Mandel, Costello crafts an R&B inspired album that his voice and style meld into effortlessly. This unlikely hybrid is what Costello’s voice was made for; he stays comfortably within his range and blends his distinct, groovy crooning over gospel-meets-Motown background vocals, distinct rhythms, extensive sampling and a chimeric punk rock, hip-hop aesthetic that ranks among some of the best work he’s done in years.

From that distinctive Apple volume “quack” at the outset of “Walk Us Uptown” to the final notes of “Wise up Ghost,” Costello and Questlove never miss a beat. The only stumble is the final track, “If I Could Believe,” where Costello reverts to straining and stretching his treasured voice to limits it was never meant to reach.

This is Elvis both new and old. Just as everything else on this album seems to struggle with a contrasting dichotomy, a give and take between diametrically opposed forces, Costello updates his style and his message, but never loses sight of his deep, beloved roots.

Wise Up Ghost walks that fine line between breaking away, and betraying your longtime fans. So many artists struggle to stay innovative, or cling desperately to past successes. Costello glides effortlessly into new, uncharted territory while always leaving one foot back in the heydays of This Year’s Model.

“Refuse to be Saved” showcases this alchemic fusion of old and new - Costello and the Roots - perfectly. The song starts with a deep-fried funkified bass line and Costello intoning, “Now that you set everybody free/ What you going to do about me?” like a hip-hop Bob Dylan. It’s damn near perfect.

The intro to “Cinco Minutos Con Vos” fuses a Spanish-style horn section with a wah-wah laden guitar; just another prime example of the effortless and highly-successful combination of influences on this record.

“(She Might Be A) Grenade” prominently features Questlove’s distinctive snare and a thoughtful, plodding rhythm that suits Costello perfectly. It also showcases Elvis in his wheelhouse, discussing romance, heartbreak, and star-crossed love.

Costello and The Roots are equally comfortable with experimentation. Over long, successful careers they have both had their hits and their misses, but they’re never afraid to keep exploring. They’re never afraid to try something new and a little bit unusual, and on Wise Up Ghost this bold approach paid off in a big way.

Wise Up Ghost is everything you would want and expect from two incredibly talented and ambitious acts. A beautiful and entertaining fusion of seemingly disparate genres that come together flawlessly to make something altogether new and exciting. This could very well be the album of the fall, and it deserves every spin it gets.