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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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I'm an enthusiastic admirer of Elvis Costello's work. So much so, that I went to six of his "Spectacular Spinning Songbook" shows this year and have all of his albums, even the more obscure stuff, so I was looking forward to this collaboration with The Roots immensely, especially given some of the extremely positive reviews. However, after owning this album for a while and giving it many, many plays, I have to conclude that it's not quite as brilliant as some critics have painted it and that it's simply a very good piece of work, rather than one of his very best. Of course, it's a highly listenable affair, with crisp beats, funky bass-lines, brass punctuation and impassioned performances from all involved. Costello himself is almost rapping his biting lyrics and The Roots' input and arrangements certainly give this project a different feel to anything he has ever released before, so it's most definitely interesting and for Costello, a man of many musical guises, to come up with something so different at this stage in his career is no small achievement. In addition, one of the small pleasures listening to this album for someone familiar with his back catalogue is to name the original songs where many of the lyrics have been lifted from and adapted.

There are a few choice cuts from "Wise Up Ghost". "Refuse To Be Saved" (featuring lyrics from "Invasion Hit Parade" from "Mighty Like A Rose") is an immense, high-energy track which ends with a maelstrom of orchestral instruments augmenting the sparse beats and brass riffs, "Tripwire", a lovely near re-working of "Satellite" (from "Spike"), is a rare delicate and tender moment in an otherwise upbeat bunch of compositions and "Viceroy's Row" has a near-hypnotic hook and features one of the more prominent melodies on the album as well as a beautiful disjointed piano on the penultimate verse. The title track, which samples "Can You Be True?" from the underrated "North" to great effect is also one of the very best things on offer here and my last pick of the album is "If I Could Believe", a beautiful hymn-like composition featuring a fragile, but passionate, Elvis vocal, which is perhaps the only track on here that sounds like a conventional Costello cut, so much so that it almost feels like it's a little out of place on this album.

I can't quite explain why "Wise Up Ghost" doesn't appeal to me as much as it possibly should. It's a pleasurable record to listen to, I enjoy the creativity of the rhythms and arrangements and I certainly appreciate the fact that Elvis has done something this different, but it doesn't really connect with me on an emotional level, the way his music normally does. There is a general lack of melody on "Wise Up Ghost" too and, as Costello is generally a master of a beguiling, intricate melody, the whole album feels slightly one-dimensional without many memorable melody lines in attendance here. Also, although there aren't many direct lifts from Elvis' formidable catalogue of songs, using lyrics that he has penned previously and adapting them takes away a little bit of originality and, if anything, makes me want to hear the originals rather than getting fully into these new tracks. By the standards of the majority of today's music, this is a really good album. By the high standards that Elvis himself has set over the years, it doesn't quite hit the mark... but, either way, it's an interesting, enjoyable album which is well worth investigating and may introduce Elvis to an entirely new market, which can't be a bad thing.
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on 17 September 2013
This is a great EC disc, which may well attract new listeners to his music and will be welcomed by those of us who already have been convinced. This albumn just has more that grabs you and no sense of there being either filler or overly complicated songs that have been smattered through some of his more recent offerings. This has immediacy, good strong tunes, great singing, and lyrically is direct and highly attractive. It is varied and really commands your attention from start to finish. oone of the best discs of this year that I have heard.
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I listened to this streamed on the website of one of our national broadsheet newspapers. It is an intriguing album. Elvis has a history of collaborations (Brodsky Quartet, Burt Bacharach, Allen Toussaint etc) but I can't say I saw this one coming after a recent resurgence of form (National Ransom and Momofoku are both excellent).

However I liked what I heard. Some new music alongside snippets of old (I hear Pills & Soap, Satellite, Invasion Hit Parade, Chewing Gum & Pulling Out The Pin amongst others). Some lyrics are pulled wholesale e.g. Pills & Soap & IHP, whereas some songs are built around riffs. For instance Tripwire, which sounds like Satellite played through a musical box.

Nerdy old-song explorations aside the album sounds pretty exciting. The Roots bring a taut sparse sound that recalls the early work of the Attractions to some degree. I will admit, though, that I felt my interest wane towards the end. Even so, I am sure I will play this on repeat for weeks, but am not so sure its a top-tier Costello release.
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on 8 October 2013
Great collaboration between two masters of their own game. Don't come here with any preconceptions. There are some real quality musical moments here
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on 6 November 2013
Wise Up Ghost is definitely a grower, that's not to say there's nothing to enjoy on the first listen. It's just that this is another new Elvis sound and it takes time to acclimatise to this. The Roots appear to be in the driving seat musically, with a crisp clear sound.

There are some great tracks on this album that begin to show themselves to you on repeated listening, with my current favourites being 'I Refuse To Be Saved' and 'Tripwire'. I Refuse To Be Saved is especially good when the volume is up.

Others have commented on Elvis vocals here and I have to agree that he sounds better than he has in a while. There are always moments on his releases that leave you feeling he is trying a little too hard to hit that note, but on Wise Up Ghost I have not been left with that feeling.

Another above average if not great album by EC. Looking forward to the documentary on BBC4 on Friday (8th November 2013) and Saturday (9th November 2013) night
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on 4 October 2013
I bought this for me wife who liked the snippet she heard on the radio. I have to say Costello's gruff voice and the soul/r&b/roots rhythm go very well together. If you only like traditional Costello, stay clear. But for anyone who's open minded to new collaborations, give it a go.
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on 8 December 2013
Wasn't sure what to expect from this but was happily surprised by the quality of the music on here. Some new songs and some old lyrics from songs like Pills And Soap given new life over a tight and vibrant backing track from the Roots. His best album since Momofuku.
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on 23 October 2013
I am a big fan of Elvis Costello and really love a lot of the Roots stuff especially Questlove's drumming and production.
This album really doesn't do justice to either party. It is a shame as I was really looking forward to this collaboration.
The songs just kind of meander around one chord grooves. The production sounds like they knocked it up in an afternoon. This feeling is added to by the fact the Elvis simply rehashes old lyrics and shoehorns them into the new tunes which simply diminishes the power of the originals.
Seriously - go and listen to the originals of Pills and Soap and Invasion Hit Parade. The dark drama and paranoia of the original versions is here replace by ersatz 'grooving.'
What's most disappointing is that in the past both parties have shown how well collaborations can be done.
Check out John Legend/The Roots on Wake Up Everybody and Elvis Costello's collaborations with Bacharach, McCartney, Allen Toussaint, Metropole Orkest and the Brodsky Quartet.
All of those albums outshine this one by a long way.
A real wasted opportunity.
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on 14 November 2013
very hard to categorise this, but that's what's so good about it. somewhere between hip hop, 70's funk, but EC's fingerprints very much all over it

stand out tracks ? all of them! Some are growers, some take hold straight off, but what an album.
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on 3 February 2014
I am delighted that Elvis Costello can still surprise and enlighten me after all these years. Sometime he experiments and it does not succeed. Here he triumphs. A great deal of the album is courageous and funky re-workings of melodies from his neglected classic "North" album. It should not work. It does. His lyrical talent has lost nothing over the decades. Brave words that I am happy to carry as a commentary on the world as we find it. "If I could believe" could speak for me even in the sadder months of a bereavement.
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