A frequent visitor to US comedian Jimmy Fallon’s chat show on US television, Costello has relished sitting in with house band The Roots for inspired re-workings of his early material. Wise Up Ghost develops the relationship much further, on a collection of original songs, albeit it with a few spliced lyrical excerpts from Elvis’ past.
Advance press suggesting it was a hip-hop collaboration are exaggerated, however, because, though clipped riffs and breakbeats are peppered throughout, it’s closer to an old-school soul record with nods to the sublime grooves of The Meters or Curtis Mayfield. Stick Out Your Tongue and Walk Us Up Town set social commentary against staccato rhythms, the former borrowing lines from Costello’s 1983 single Pills And Soap, while lyrical snippets from less familiar Elvis oldies get radical makeovers on the minimalist funk of She Might Be A Grenade and the brooding Wake Me Up.
It’s the most sonically daring album of Costello’s lengthy career, with co-producers The Roots’ Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson and Steve Mandel concocting a disciplined palette that frames the words against a constantly surprising backdrop. Busy without being overblown, the myriad levels of activity reveal something new with each listen, be it thought-provoking observations on the struggles of the modern world, or curveball melodies and musical passages of remarkable vigour. A high watermark in the canons of all involved.