Elton John and Queens of the Stone Age. David Bowie and Arcade Fire. Elvis Costello and The Roots.
This is shaping up to be quite the year for unexpected collaborations. John added his pipes and piano stylings to a track on Queen's new desert-rock album, ...Like Clockwork, while Bowie and Arcade Fire set the world alight with their almost eight-minute dance number, "Reflektor."
As groovy as it is, the tune suffers from one major problem. As soon as you hear the all-too-brief bursts of Bowie's voice — around the five-minute mark — you want him to take over the rest of the song. In fact, you might even want him to re-record "Reflektor" without — sacrilege! — AF's husband-and-wife vocal team of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne.
Fortunately, the Costello/Roots collaboration doesn't suffer from the same problem. Neither act overshadows the other on Wise Up Ghost. The acerbic British singer-songwriter and the jazzy hip-hop veterans (and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon musicians) manage to combine their strengths into one adventurous yet coherent album.
From the opening synth squelches, drive-by blurts and loping bass notes of the first song, "Walk Us Uptown," Costello and The Roots set themselves head and shoulders above any of the other album releases this week. "No matter what the price / It's your own paradise / Will you walk us uptown?" spits Costello, sounding almost as fired up as he did in the '70s and '80s.
The 59-year-old singer doesn't rap, though he comes close with his Bono-like spoken-word vocals on "Refuse To Be Saved," one of a handful of funkier ditties on the album. "No pants, no cigarettes," lists Costello, accompanied by dizzying strings and a strutting rhythm section. "Just non-stop discotheques."
A few songs almost feel too non-stop. "Wake Me Up," with its hypnotic grooves and occasional swirly guitar riffs, doesn't need to verge on six minutes. Same goes for "Stick Out Your Tongue," which features some fascinating lyrics watered down by an endless jam: "She sleeps with the shirt of a late, great country singer / Stretched out upon her poor jealous husband's pillow" or "While the parents of those kidnapped children / Start the bidding for their tears."
"Tripwire" and "Come The Meantimes," on the other hand, could go on forever. The former is one of those dreamy, slow-dance swayers, complete with twinkles, horns, and '60s soul-group backup vocals. The latter is a dark, trip-hoppish tune punctuated by the pings of a bell.
The 12-song album ends with a straightforward number, "If I Could Believe," a slower, piano ballad which sounds more like a Costello solo ditty than a collaboration.
As tendrils of cinematic strings unfurl at the end of the song, you can see FIN appear on the silver screen in your mind and only hope a sequel — or even a tour — is already in the works.