Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 18 November 2013
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.