Album: Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 3:22pm

Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs
Elvis Costello and The Roots
Blue Note
4 stars

Both Elvis Costello and The Roots are what you might call serial collaborators. Costello has long been on a quest to find new partners to spark his muse, from Burt Bacharach to Allen Toussaint to Swedish mezzo-soprano Annie Sofie von Otter.

As for The Roots, drummer/producer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has appeared on records by John Mayer, John Legend, Dido and Al Jarreau, to name but a few.

Nevertheless, a certain sense of trepidation surrounds Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs. Costello, however, has a strong pedigree when it comes to working in black musical genres: the Motown-inspired miniatures of 1980's Get Happy!, the reggae rhythms that frequently underpinned his early work with the Attractions.

Curiously, it's the latter that Wise Up Ghost most regularly evokes. Although Costello offers a fairly restrained vocal performance here, his is still an enormously distinctive voice, which means building the right scenery around it is a tough call. Opener Walk Us Uptown features a stately skanking bassline, while Wake Me Up strikingly counterpoints a vocal sung close to the mike with a guitar coated in disorientating echo.

The album's sound is full of space, but doesn't feel airy so much as eerie. Costello has always been good at conjuring up a sense of imminent apocalypse, but here the chaos appears to be happening at a remove from the songs' narrator.

Costello sings the title track in a kind of torpid murmur. He might sound half asleep but, for a man who announced five years ago that he couldn't really be bothered making any more albums, he seems as animated as ever.

Alexis Petridis (The Guardian)