Elvis Costello gets his groove back with Roots’ collaboration “Wise Up Ghost”


Sam Hays

Classic rocker Elvis Costello has got his groove back. Teaming up with The Roots, Costello returns to the scene with his latest project, Wise Up Ghost.

With the help of The Roots, Costello sounds revitalized and more energetic than he has in some of his latest works. His signature wail, always teetering between being on and off pitch, is confident as ever on top of the vintage, hip-hop beats The Roots are known for. The partnership between a seasoned rock icon and a relatively young, but experienced, band represents a bold move by both parties, resulting in a successful collaboration.

Wise Up Ghost is a collection of 12 solid, funky tracks laden with catchy melodies and tremolo-heavy guitar riffs. The Roots’ instrumentation allows Costello’s voice to drift between different settings and contexts — a musical experiment that is the product of the collective genius of this talented bunch of musicians. 

A trumpet sounds, sometimes accompanied by another one harmonizing on top of it. A Rhodes piano hammers out a riff that leads into a beautiful string arrangement that closes out the song. And of course, thumping bass guitars cruise side-by-side with the classic sound of Roots’ drummer Questlove — simply a sexy reward for listeners.

Some songs are Costello-centered ballads, such as the gentle “Tripwire.” Some are Motown-infused parades, such as the album opener “Walk Us Uptown,” in which The Roots’ influence clearly bleeds through. Many songs, such as “(She Might Be A) Grenade,” are a remarkable blend of both Costello’s and The Roots’ signature styles, and are the album’s high points. The album’s closer, “If I Could Believe,” could be a stand-alone Costello track — a soft piano ballad that punctuates the album perfectly after several tracks of exhausting variety.

Once an aging musician who seemed to be losing relevance, the brave, new collaboration has once again breathed life into Costello’s persona. Wise Up Ghost recycles musical ideas from rock, hip-hop and funk, but is spun with ingenuity that makes every song on the album innovative and entertaining.