Exclaim!, September 17, 2013

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Wise Up Ghost

Elvis Costello and the Roots

Jason Schneider

Upon first listen to this collaboration between some of the greatest encyclopaedic musical minds around today, it's not surprising that flashes of the past appear constantly, like half-remembered conversations that naturally arise when seeing old friends. The Roots are good at this, often knowing more about the artists they work with than those performers can recall. On Wise Up Ghost, there's some of the tautness of Costello's early work, channelled primarily through ?uestlove's omnipresent snare drum, while the blue-eyed soul experiments of Trust and Punch The Clock get the proper treatment they long deserved. It is a shame that Costello already used Painted From Memory as an album title, because it could easily have been applied here. At times, it's almost as if the Roots unlocked a little-used part of Costello's brain, allowing him to reimagine "Pills and Soap" as "Stick Out Your Tongue" and "She's Pulling Out The Pin" as "She Might Be A Grenade," sprinkling lines from other past works throughout the album. While this writing method may seem scattershot, Costello sounds much more focused than on his last two T-Bone Burnett-produced albums, where his on-going quest to fulfil his vision of Americana ran out of steam. Instead, Wise Up Ghost finds him training his unparalleled observational skills on the here and now, chronicling with venom a disintegrating world on "Refuse To Be Saved," and "Wake Me Up." He frequently makes no concessions to the raggedness of his voice, knowing that the Roots will provide the necessary cushion. By closing ballad "If I Could Believe," the album's dark, gritty sentiments are perfectly summed up. Costello has made a great deal of music this bleak before, but rarely has it been so invigorating. He may have just found his ideal match in the Roots.

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Exclaim!, September 17, 2013


Jason Schneider reviews Wise Up Ghost.


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