Socialist Review: Senan Mortell : 18th October 2013.
Elvis Costello and The Roots
Wise Up Ghost is a collaboration between Elvis Costello and live instrumentation hip hop soul group The Roots.
I approached this album as a huge fan of The Roots and as someone who has nothing more than a very limited knowledge Elvis Costello, although after listening to this I think I may need to remedy that.
Throughout this album there is the sense of a great unease about the state of the world, with political undertones throughout, and a questioning of the idea of salvation. The album often sounds menacing and sparse, yet is always pushed forward by some lovely grooves. The line walked is between the angry and the bleak with a sense of hope.
The whole album seems to demand an opinion almost mocking indifference with its moody and broody music and the biting thought provoking lyrics supplied by Costello. But it does it in the style of someone staring intently at you, speaking in low controlled tones demanding your attention. It got mine.
The album begins with "Walk Us Uptown" and doesn't really let up. Will you wash away our sins, In the cross-fire and cross-currents, As you uncross your fingers, And take out some insurance".
The bitter ideological truth of "Refuse to Be Saved": "They're hunting us down with Liberty's light, A handshaking double-talking procession of the mighty".
On the track "Wake Me Up", he delivers the unambiguous lines: "They dragged that bruised and purple heart along the road to Palestine", and later, "In the name of gasoline and a gun, Wake me up... There must be something better than this."
The track "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" works so well and is the story of living under occupation. Initially I wished that Black Thought, The Roots MC, made an appearance but the more I listen the more I am taken by the lyricism of Costello.
Grooves are murky and loose, a melding together of soul, hip hop, ska and funk, discordant electronic sounds, some beautiful string arrangements, a nice brass section and more than a nod to the 1970s. It's a fun album to deconstruct and I reckon if I knew more about Costello's back catalogue I would appreciate it more.
And that led me to wonder how this review would have worked out if I had been a Costello fan with little or no knowledge of The Roots. I hope it would have inspired me to listen to their work. I think it's the sort of album that takes some effort from the listener (although it is at the same time immediately satisfying) and the more familiar you are with the respective artists the more you will get out of it.
This album is still growing on me. I really like it and can't recommend it enough. Thought provoking and funky; what's not to like?