What do you get when you take one of the most significant singer/songwriters of the past three decades, and pair him with perhaps the greatest live hip hop band of all time? Elvis Costello and the Legendary Roots Crew have collaborated to create Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs, a truly genre-bending album. According to Questlove of the Roots, the record initially started off as a small project aimed at remixing some of Costello’s classics, but over time evolved into a full length album featuring twelve tracks of all new material.
Wise Up Ghost is full of social commentary from Costello, and his lyrics often carry a dark, sometimes hopeless feel. This is evident from the first track “Walk Us Uptown,” which sets the tone for the album with frightening, pessimistic lyrics that serve as an admonition for indifference: “We’ll stand in light of your new killing ground/ And we won’t make a sound.”
The most incredible aspect of this record is the apparent effortlessness with which both the Roots and Costello are able to complement each other, without compromising style, and without sounding forced. On the bluesy “She Might Be a Grenade,” the strings and horns layered over Quest’s slow boom-baps fit perfectly with Costello’s syncopated delivery.
From an instrumental aspect the Roots are, as always, on point throughout the entire album, providing a steady mix of styles from jazz to hip hop to rock. “Tripwire” has a doo-wop sound and paranoid lyrics that are sharply contrasted by a lullaby-like delivery, while “Refused to Be Saved” opens up with infectiously funky guitar riffs over distorted drums. The most outstanding song, “Come the Meantimes,” features Costello crooning over a haunting keyboard, and a snare that hits harder than Tashaun Gipson does opposing quarterback’s knees.
The biggest disappointment of this record is Black Thought’s absence. To say it would be interesting to hear him and Costello trade verses on a track would be an understatement, but alas, it doesn’t happen here. Despite this disappointment, Wise Up Ghost truly is a great collaboration and is as enjoyable as it is indefinable.
Elvis Costello & The Roots - "Wise Up Ghost" Live In Brooklyn