Review: Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
Published on September 16th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello and The Roots is without doubt, following David Byrne and St. Vincent last year, the (relatively) unlikely collaborative success story of 2013.
Feeling disheartened by that somewhat clunky opening sentence? Remedy the situation by listening to Wise Up Ghost, which finds Costello as lyrically sharp and brimming with well-directed anger as ever.
“Some scoop gold from the dirt in the gutter / Or swallow the earth pouring into your mouth / As they bury us upright / Saying ‘everything’s alright'” from opener “Walk Us Uptown” makes as much abundantly clear straight from the off…and the impact is subversively sweetened by some positively beaming melodies.
The immediately ensuing “Sugar Won’t Work”, for instance, is just the most uplifting breezy soul strut imaginable; it’s utterly glorious, right down to the falsetto backing vocables that herald the ascent into its heavenly chorus.
“Tripwire” is twinkly lullaby-pop concealing the clenched fist of lines like “Just because I don’t read the labels, doesn’t mean I’m blind to the threat”, just as the delightfully idiosyncratic “Refuse to be Saved” packs “I know my neighbour / He’s the one who always turns me in”.
Gorgeously brooding strings are occasionally let loose amid the sparse oddity of “(She Might Be A) Grenade” (“Her smile was out of place, so she swept it off her face” being one such classic Costello-ism here), while Falklands War ballad “Cinco Minutos Con Vos”, featuring La Marisoul, is so sophisticated that is makes a blissful currency out of moodiness.
The title track is perhaps most striking of all, cinematically foreboding and up in lights, but we shouldn’t let this review slide without mentioning the streak of crunchy, shuffling Roots funk that permeates proceedings.
Wise Up Ghost is even better than anyone could reasonably have hoped for, a fully fledged feather in the cap for both Elvis Costello and The Roots. For its own part, Rocksucker’s cap is doffed.
Wise Up Ghost is out now on Blue Note Records.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!