Musical luminary Elvis Costello is back and he hasn't lost a step. Wise Up Ghost is 56 minutes of boogie-'til-you-drop funk thanks to The Roots and drum virtuoso Questlove, who supplies infectious drums to Costello's jazzy horn arrangements.
Although this collaboration was intended to be a reinvention of tracks from Costello's catalogue, the two parties instead created a wealth of new material. "(She Might Be A) Grenade" and "Wake Me Up" are the only two songs that are a reimagining of Costello's past.
The musicianship of Wise Up Ghost is in a class of its own. Costello and Questlove, as well as most of The Roots, combine to create songs ranging from slow jams ("Tripwire,") to hyperfunk cuts ("Refuse to be Saved") and everything in between. And while on first listen it may seem that Questlove is playing similar drum riffs throughout the album, upon closer examination, the perfection and intricacy of Questlove's drumming are noticeable, as well as the refined effect they have on each song.
The high point of the album comes nine tracks in with "Cinco Minutos Con Vos," a fiery duet with Mexican vocalist La Marisoul. While most songs feature overpowering horns, guitar licks or bass lines, all instrumentation is quieted here so the attention is focused on the haunting duet. And although the instruments are muted, listeners still pick up on the song's Latin flare.
One major disappointment is the absence of the Roots' frontman Black Thought on the entire album. Although most of these songs weren't built for rap, "Come the Meantimes" and "Refuse to be Saved" have stronger hip-hop backings that would lend themselves nicely to the rapper's verse. And although some songs — "Wise Up Ghost" and "Wake Me Up" in particular — stretch to six minutes and can feel a bit monotonous, the tracks are distinct enough to keep listeners interested.
Questlove and Costello feed off each other's perfection to create an album full of tastefully orchestrated grooves. Despite the lack of Black Thought, the album's strength is fully evident in its instrumentation and musicianship.