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Elvis Costello and the Roots: 'There's no such thing as too funky'
October 9, 2013 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Ahmir Thompson, aka ?uestlove from The Roots, and their producer, Steven Mandel, are secret "Elvis freaks." One of their early discussions about agreeing to their gig on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was the possibility about playing with Elvis. The Roots took the job, and Elvis has now played on the show five times. From these collaborations, the seeds of something bigger grew, and that came to a very funky (and political) fruition with Wise Up Ghost, embedded as streaming tracks in this Guardian review, and available in a single stream from a fan on YouTube. If you'd like to hear more about how the "remixing" of some prior Costello pieces (Pills and Soap, National Ramson, and Hurry Down Doomsday, to name a few songs), Costello and Thompson spent about 40 minutes with NPR's World Cafe, or you can read their interview with the Guardian.
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a phenomenal album. Thanks for posting, I missed the World Cafe bit.
posted by nevercalm at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2013


Hey thanks - I had forgotten that this was due out
posted by thelonius at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2013


It really is a pretty great album, and I'm not even a huge Elvis Costello fan. But him with the Roots, man, it's rockin.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:18 PM on October 9, 2013


Both the post and the album are great--thanks, flt!
posted by box at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2013


I am a huge Questlove/?uestlove fan. His memoir is fucking awesome and everyone should read it. Thanks for this!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2013


Great post, but it is NEVER appropriate to refer to Elvis Costello by just using his first name.
posted by dhammond at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


The album cover looks like a riff on the classic City Lights Pocket Poets series book cover designs, specifically that of Ginsberg's Howl. Anyone know if that's intentional?
posted by Toekneesan at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2013


I came across the album back when it first came out and didn't really pay any attention. Then I heard Cinco Minutos Con Vos on the local radio station and said "Wait, what? I must hear more!"

Seriously, this album is ridiculously good. Mind you, that's coming from a fan of funk, hip-hop and melancholy music. And I have a huge (music)nerd-crush on Questlove, primarily due to his memoir. Dude just dropped a bomb with MC Brian Wilson with the Dust Brothers, which is honestly an awful track.

Here's the Wise Up Ghost page on the Elvis Costello wiki, which has credits and lyrics up now, but not much more. Wikipedia has some nice interview snippets about how the album was formed.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great post, but it is NEVER appropriate to refer to Elvis Costello by just using his first name.

Yeah, think of all the Elvis Mitchell fans you're going to confuse.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've had it on heavy rotation since it came out. It's the best Costello album in a long time. In some ways, it reminds me of his When I Was Cruel, which was sort of trumped up as the return of the rebellious, loud Costello. But Wise Up Ghost is better.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2013


oh wow, this is really fucking good. I'm somewhat surprised, never been a big Costello fan and The Roots haven't really impressed me since Things Fall Apart (although I remember really liking Game Theory the couple times I heard it).

thanks for posting, I hadn't heard anything about this.
posted by mannequito at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2013


Great post, but it is NEVER appropriate to refer to Elvis Costello by just using his first name.

Thanks, dually noted.


The album cover looks like a riff on the classic City Lights Pocket Poets series book cover designs, specifically that of Ginsberg's Howl. Anyone know if that's intentional?

Very much so, according to this post on Costello's website.
The genesis of this idea began with Blue Note Records president Don Was who saw the connection between Costello’s lyrics and the presentation of the poetry of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso by City Lights who graciously supported the use of their celebrated design.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:36 PM on October 9, 2013


Yeah, think of all the Elvis Mitchell fans you're going to confuse.

You're forgetting the big one: Elvis Perkins.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, filthy light thief. It's so close that it seemed impossible it was an accident.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:40 PM on October 9, 2013


mannequito: oh wow, this is really fucking good. I'm somewhat surprised, never been a big Costello fan and The Roots haven't really impressed me since Things Fall Apart

That's why I passed by this album on first glance. I don't think I conveyed how this is a really, really well done album (and I now realize I in the body of the post, I referred to Elvis Costello three times as "Elvis," then twice as "Costello," only listing his full (stage) name in the post title and tag.


think of all the Elvis Mitchell fans you're going to confuse.

You're forgetting the big one: Elvis Perkins.

No love for Elvis Crespo? (Surprisingly, Elvis isn't a terribly common name.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2013


What is Elvis Stojko, chopped caribou liver?
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's the best Costello album in a long time.

What about his 2006 collaboration with Allen Toussaint, The River in Reverse?
posted by larrybob at 1:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


On Blue Note now? News to me!
posted by thelonius at 1:11 PM on October 9, 2013


I heard a couple of songs - totally gobsmacked! This is the best album I've heard in years based on those songs.
posted by Mister_A at 1:12 PM on October 9, 2013


The River In Reverse is really good. Of course, that's because it's about something other than internal romantic bullshit.

It's funny, Elvis Costello's juvenile vaguely misogynist romantic bullshit is so good - normally I don't bother with that whole ressentiment/rotating-cast-of-girlfriends genre, but I love pretty much every album up through Spike. And then it's all bleah, with When I Was Cruel and "Spooky Girlfriend" as this horrible low point. I guess maybe with the juvenilia it came across as deeply felt misogyny, where with the later stuff it's just a retread, and someone who is famous and rich and on Young Wife Number Three isn't quite as excusable when he configures himself as Creepy Sexist.
posted by Frowner at 1:14 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Delivery Man" was great too, as was his last live album with the Imposters (the cheaper version, at least, Mr. Costello disowned the more expensive package and suggested that people buy a Louis Armstrong box set instead). People go on and on in these threads about how he's just OK or hasn't done anything good in years have not been paying any attention.
posted by raysmj at 1:22 PM on October 9, 2013


Oh, and National Ransom was a keeper as well, very well reviewed.
posted by raysmj at 1:29 PM on October 9, 2013


I didn't expect to dig this album but I really do. Probably the best thing he's done in at least the last 25 years, and without most of the lugubrious self-indulgence of the last 25 years either. And The Roots pretty much make everything they're involved with better.
posted by blucevalo at 1:29 PM on October 9, 2013


A few bonus links, before I stop sitting in this thread: Here's the entry on Costello's website for the album, which has liner notes for the record. Oddly, the tracklist is the "basic" 12 track version. The Guardian interview noted that the first 12 tracks were considered the main album, and then they recorded three more after the main sessions, but Questlove tweeted a pic of the 15 tracks going out for mastering at the same time (3 months ago).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2013


Elvis Costello always does this to me. My favorite songs and albums are always the ones that have to grow on me.

Initially, I thought I'd probably be passing up on this one, but by the time I finished listening to the whole thing, I'd changed my mind. After that, it wasn't long before it had creeped pretty far up in my favorites.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:12 PM on October 9, 2013


There's no such thing as too funky

One time I downloaded a torrent of all the Parliament/Funkadelic albums and after a number of continuous hours of listening I'm not sure I agree with this sentiment 100%. It may be impossible to be too funky in any particular moment, but IMO it is possible to be too funky over 4 or 5 solid hours.
posted by Hoopo at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great post, but it is NEVER appropriate to refer to Elvis Costello by just using his first name.

Yeah, for a split-second, I thought I had woken up in a parallel universe.
posted by maus at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2013


This is really great! I think this may end up being some of Elvis Costello's best work.Thanks for reminding me about this collaboration.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:10 PM on October 9, 2013


Not to put down Mr. Costello's contribution, but The Roots can turn anything into magic. Here they are redeeming We Can't Stop with Miley Cyrus.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:15 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


i'm a fan of elvis costello from the early days. the columbia records days. i just loved the freshness. i also loved the consistency with which he put out records in those days (there was a while there where a new record would drop each spring).
this is a solid offering, and i think his songwriting has evolved over the years, and continues to evolve, but i think his singing leveled off years ago. anyone feel the same? is it just 80s nostalgia for me? or am i just old? and should you just get off my lawn?

however - thanks for sharing this. i will certainly put it into heavy rotation. like some others mentioned, up-thread, i was aware of this, but somehow it fell thru the cracks. great reminder.
posted by rude.boy at 3:26 PM on October 9, 2013


Man, the Roots have way more energy than any band I've heard Costello play with recently. I like this. Feels different from the Attractions era, but it has the right bounce.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:29 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you. This makes me happy. Very Happy.
posted by valentinepig at 4:03 PM on October 9, 2013


Frowner: The River In Reverse is really good. Of course, that's because it's about something other than internal romantic bullshit.

And also because of the excellent contributions of Allen Toussaint - the River was one of the first albums in a long time that I felt a strong urge to learn to play (and also led me to discover Bob Dylan's wonderful version of Freedom for the Stallion). I felt that Sacred, Profane and Sugarcane also managed to avoid some of the lyrical pitfalls you mention, although quite a bit of that is also relationship singing...

Thanks for this post, FLT. I've only recently started listening to The Roots and I'm looking really forward to giving this album a spin.
posted by curious.jp at 4:17 PM on October 9, 2013


Toekneesan: Here they are redeeming We Can't Stop with Miley Cyrus

My wife just played the song again (it's also available on YouTube), and now she's playing their rendition of the Sesame Street theme song with "classroom instruments," as they've done for Blurred Lines, Call Me Maybe, and All I Want For Christmas. The Roots always look like they're having so much fun in these videos.

I love the reactions from Fallon and Questlove in Miley's video.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:25 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


And also because of the excellent contributions of Allen Toussaint

Oh, yes, of course - I didn't mean to slight Toussaint at all! He's such a remarkable guy, and I guess really the album is "about" something at least 50% because Toussaint himself has always been about something.

I have to say, Elvis Costello has always been pretty smart about who to collaborate with.
posted by Frowner at 7:52 PM on October 9, 2013


No sir, I don't like it.

Too many beats.
posted by petebest at 5:28 AM on October 10, 2013


And you call yourself a drummer...
posted by filthy light thief at 8:03 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a DVD of Toussaint and Costello performing called Hot As a Pistol, Keen As a Blade. Haven't seen it yet, but I recently saw Toussaint solo live and he did a great set, including "Freedom for the Stallion." Toussaint also has a new recorded-live solo CD and DVD, Song Book, which seems like it's similar to the live set I saw, in that he talks about the origins of the songs.
posted by larrybob at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


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