This week's best new thing in the music world is "Wise Up Ghost," the new album by Elvis Costello.
It should be noted that I have been an Elvis Costello fan for longer than I care to remember, and nearly everything he does is crazy cool. But he's been on a roll lately; I loved his last two records, "Momofuku" and "The Delivery Man." I even loved his country album, "Almost Blue." Of course his early stuff, like "My Aim Is True" and "This Year's Model" are on everyone's top 10 lists.
The new record is with the hip-hop/soul/funk band The Roots. Imagine that. One of hip-hop's pioneering bands backing a British rock legend. The result is a record filled to the brim with Costello's usual clever lyrics and biting vocals, but it's all wrapped up in synth and nightclub beats.
It's crazy good, but does take a bit of getting used to. Longtime Costello fans, accustomed as we are to his eclectic stylistic changes, will need a few plays for this Roots-style record to sink in. But sink in it will. And once it does, you'll find yourself playing it louder and louder, especially in the car.
If you're like me, maybe you've heard of The Roots, but know them mostly as the band from Jimmy Fallon's late-night show. If that's the case, you'll find yourself impressed with what they can do. I've never bought any of their records, but I'm thinking I might. Conversely, I assume that there are a few old-school funk fans who want to know more about this Elvis Costello person.
The other remarkable thing about "Wise Up Ghost" is that it employs sampling without being irritating. I've never liked sampling. Musicians should be able to make their art without lifting the work of others. This record makes it work because the lyrics and guitar riffs that get used are from previous Costello songs, including the legendary "Pills and Soap," from his days in London with the Imposters. The song is reborn here as "Stick Out Your Tongue," and it's got some of the coolest late-'70s keyboard work ever. It's the best example on the record of the contrasts between Costello and The Roots, and displays the strengths of both.