Elvis Costello has made a career out of refusing to be pigeonholed and also of constantly reinventing himself. From angry, young, new waver to country crooner, R&B shouter to sophisticated singer-songwriter — to name just a few stops on his musical journey — Costello's body of work is nothing if not diverse.
With Wake Up Ghost — a stirring collaboration with critically acclaimed hip-hop combo The Roots — Costello has done it again. The grooves are deep and plentiful, his voice is alternatingly caustic and smooth, and the thought-provoking lyrics bite and sting, as usual. It's a lyrical powder keg of a record, with Costello often spitting out his lyrics á lá Bob Dylan. Check "Refuse To Be Saved," which finds him winkingly referencing Roger Miller and Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes (look 'em up if you don't remember) while also firing offlines such as, "Incidentally the revolution will be televised / with one head for business and another for good looks / until they started arriving with their rubber aprons and butcher's hooks."
Even though the overall sound is relatively sparse, it doesn't sound bare bones by any means; the production (by Costello, the Roots' Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Steve Mandel) gives each instrument and Costello's voice room to breathe and shine. The beautifully trancelike "Tripwire" — one of a handful of songs on Wise Up Ghost that samples or contains excerpts from one of Costello's old tunes — masterfully blends horns, bells, female backing vocals, chimes and keyboards into a simply gorgeous melody, topped with a wonderfully fragile lead vocal from Costello. The disc-closing "If I Could Believe" is a devastatingly heartbreaking ballad, while the ominous title cut and the first single, "Walk Us Uptown," provide some of the semi-sneering Costello-isms that his fans have come to know and love. Wise Up Ghost is light years away from Armed Forces and This Year's Model, but that's as it should be; Costello has always been an artist unafraid to push the envelope and grow. This album is relevant, modern, forceful and a fine addition to Costello's peerless catalog. Note for collectors: The deluxe edition contains three bonus tracks and a booklet with lyrics, notes, photos and credits.