A&E

Album review: Elvis Costello and The Roots’ ‘Wise Up Ghost’

Annie Zaleski

Three stars

Elvis Costello and the Roots Wise Up Ghost

In a recent interview, Elvis Costello stressed that his collaboration album with The Roots, “is not my hip-hop record,” and indeed, Wise Up Ghost plays like anything but a straightforward hip-hop record (Roots rapper Black Thought isn’t even present). The album mashes together strolling funk, ’70s action-movie-theme drama, fiery soul-rock, gravelly R&B and, yes, smart hip-hop.

What’s most interesting about these songs is how the chameleonic Costello assimilates (and even disappears into) each style. “Wake Me Up,” resembles the spoken-word of Soul Coughing. The downtempo neo-soul seduction of “Cinco Minutos Con Vos” is a pretty credible David Bowie approximation. And standout “Sugar Won’t Work” is a syrupy, retro-soul croon with flickering organ bleats and laid-back rhythms. It all adds up to a collection of ideas and grooves rather than a defined collection of songs, though, and that leaves Wise Up Ghost feeling meandering and unfocused—a shame considering The Roots are one of the tightest backing bands on the planet.

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  • At this point, the only constant from album to album is the band’s dedication to ambition.

  • Bassist Nate Brenner partners with leader Merrill Garbus for an approachable and dancey record.

  • “This record has very little insecurity. It was a blast to make, and it’s really fun to play live.”

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