When I heard Elvis Costello and The Roots were doing an album together, I instantly thought of that website with pictures of awesome people hanging out together. Once the excitement wore off, I then realised it’s pretty likely to be a mediocre album, where an aging legend struggles to strike a middle ground with one of the most experimental Hip-Hop acts around today.
Luckily, what they ended up actually making is pretty damn good. The only major disappointment is it’s not the Elvis-Costello-Hip-Hop mash-up many of us may have fantasised over. Although Costello had always made it clear this ‘wasn’t going to be his Hip-Hop album’, it would have been nice if Black Thought was still rapping in it. This is arguably made up for by the quality of Costello’s lyrics, however, which are very good indeed. Similarly, the guest appearance of La Marisoul adds some flare. Her duet with Costello on ‘Cinco Minutos Con Vos’ is one of the tracks where the power of the ‘Roots-Costello’ collaboration comes through most, with Questlove’s production playing a vital role.
Whilst the album may not be as experimental as some may have liked, its key strength is how natural it feels. Anyone who’s seen the The Roots live will know they love to just stand around and jam. A lot of Wise Up Ghost just sounds like Costello and The Roots having the time of their lives jamming in the studio; several of the albums’ tracks simply have to be faded out at the end. This ‘jamming’ approach means we get some brilliant skatting, most likely from Douglas, as well as really aiding the passion in Costello’s singing.
‘Walk Us Uptown’ makes a lot of sense as the choice of first single. It has the best juxtapistion of Costello’s singing with Questlove’s more Hip-Hop style production techniques as well as featuring a range of the instruments used in the album. The rest of the album’s songs vary dramatically; including piano ballads such as ‘If I Could Believe’ and more funky electronic tracks like ‘Stick Out Your Tongue’. It’s pretty likely the two acts didn’t have much of an idea of the sort of music they wanted to make together. Regardless, it sounds like when they were in the studio they were on the same wavelength; enjoying themselves and remaining sharply focused on the sounds they made. Resultantly, there’s some great music here.
…Ian is listening to Arcade Fire – ‘Reflektor’…