When I first heard that Elvis Costello and the Roots were working on a project together I nearly lost my mind. I mean, what could be better than the blending of Costello’s sharp pop sensibilities and diverse musical knowledge with the Roots’ edge to make a mind-blowing and unpredictable album?
Then, after a quick listen through, I realized that this wasn’t what I expected at all. I was looking for something groundbreaking and catchy, something that would be able to push the envelope while still maintain the instant appeal of Costello’s earlier works like ‘Every Day I Write the Book’ or ‘Oliver’s Army’. Add to that the fact that Black Thought doesn’t show up to drop a verse once.
Of course, this is entirely my fault for dreaming rather than looking at the project realistically. It’s not always fair to expect an iconic album just because the musicians involved are icons. The expectations caused by success can weigh heavily on artists to produce incredible albums.
It feels more like they got together and decided to jam and record the tracks they liked in spite of such heavy expectations. Costello’s writing feels somewhat recycled, but to that point, his writing has always been better than anything most other musicians could dream of producing. In addition to the Roots’ musicianship, the final product, without a doubt, would still be something technically sound.
But this isn’t the Roots that make crazy innovative hip-hop records but the band that plays other people’s songs as Jimmy Fallon’s house band. Regardless, the work still carries the Roots’ trademark takes on blues, funk, and soul. While it speaks of the talent the Roots have, it’s also some of the most conventional work they’ve done.
This is not to say that I hate the album or anything. It’s still a good listen. It’s always a pleasure to hear great musicians and writers work on their craft. Though the tracks aren’t as thought out and focused, as you would expect, the album still has several standouts. ‘Tripwire’ is a ballad that shines with the brilliance only Costello could provide, while ‘Cinco Minutos Con Vos’ is reminiscent of the Root’s early 2000s work.
Wise Up Ghost isn’t meant to fulfill anyone’s expectations. In its simplest terms, it is two incredibly talented musical entities coming together to make solid music. You need to enjoy it for what is rather than create larger than expectations because of their legacies. If you can temper expectations, you might find that you enjoy the album.