Many of the tracks on Wise Up Ghost, the new collaboration from British rocker Elvis Costello and hip-hop band the Roots, evoke the time between the awareness of an impending crisis and the actual arrival of the crisis. They brilliantly capture the eerie quiet and tension of that interlude by camping out in the no man's land between rock and hip-hop.
There's no rapping or guitar heroics, just wheezing horn riffs, Costello's muttering vocals, Questlove's push-and-pull drumming and Mark Kelley's rumbling bass. "Tripwire" describes the small, cautious movements you must take to avoid setting off a hidden bomb. "Above there's an ominous humming," Costello sings, "below there's a murmur of prayer."
When Costello sings "She's pulling out a pin" on "(She Might Be a) Grenade," the revelation that the pin comes not from a grenade but from a hairdo that cascades seductively is hardly reassuring, given the ominous string arrangement.
It's worth searching out the deluxe version of the album, for it adds three top-notch songs to the original dozen, including the 6½-minute "Can You Hear Me," an unsettling crime story that could be a sequel to "Watching the Detectives."