Monday, 8 October 2018

Elvis Costello & The Roots - Wise Up Ghost (2013)


Released September 2013

On this album, Elvis Costello is backed by hip/hop band The Roots, a group from a much younger generation to Costello and one who I will freely admit to having no prior knowledge of. They can play, however, and considerably enhance the musical ambience of the album. They add a muscular, punchy staccato rhythm to the backing which matches Costello's vocals perfectly. It is perhaps a surprising union, but it really works.


1. Walk Us Uptown
2. Sugar Won't Work
3. Refuse To Be Saved
4. Wake Me Up
5. Tripwire
6. Stick Out Your Tongue
7. Come The Meantimes
8. (She Might Be A ) Grenade
9. Cinco Minutos Con Vos
10. Viceroy's Row
11. Wise Up Ghost
12. If I Could Believe

"Walk Us Uptown" is a rumbling, rhythmic and bassy grinder of an opener, underpinned by some excellent brass and industrially-jangling guitars. At the end it even uses a bit of melodica (better known in dub reggae). Costello's vocal sounds a bit older, more gruff, but still bearing that trademark cynical sneering tone. "Sugar Won't Work" is a pulsating, mysterious number, once again with a deep, solid bass line. It is slightly funky in its insistent groove. In a similar, shuffling beat comes "Refuse To Be Saved", which quotes from 1991's "Invasion Hit Parade" (non-stop Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes...). "Wake Me Up" brings back echoes of "Chewing Gum" from 1989's "Spike" in both its slow funky groove and its brass interjections. Costello seems to attempting to reconnect with older material of his, while giving it an updated feel. Indeed, "Tripwire" blatantly uses the intro from "Satellite", also from "Spike". It is a great song, though, with a sumptuous bass and infectious chorus.

Again, "Stick Out Your Tongue" uses lyrics and ambience from 1983's "Pills And Soap".  Yes, there is an argument that plundering old material to write new songs around may signify a lack of a new creative spark, but I don't see it like that. All the new songs have an identity of their own. The Roots add a wonderful drum rhythm to "Come The Meantimes". All these songs have a real feel of Costello from days gone by, yet also feels completely contemporary. In that respect it is a really enjoyable, successful album. It really breathes. I love it. Check out the buzzy guitar, drums and vocals on the afore-mentioned "Come The Meantimes". Excellent stuff.

"(She Might Be A) Grenade" is a quirky, bassy slow burner of a track, one of the album's most beguiling and inventive. It also samples an earlier Costello song but try as I might, I can't remember what it is. It is in the acoustic guitar riff part. "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" is an interesting, atmospheric number with some sultry female Portuguese vocals as well as Costello's crooning delivery. "Viceroy's Row" sees Costello revisiting that late-night jazzy feel he has done regularly over the mid/later period of his long career. Some jazzy brass accompanies the bassy, slow, chugging beat. Costello sings in a falsetto voice in places, which is unusual, but it works.

The title track is another infectious, slow, shuffling number and "If I Could Believe" ends the album in a low-key fashion. Overall, this is an innovative, appealing piece of work. Certainly one of Costello's finest latter-era albums.


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