The idea of Elvis Costello collaborating with The Roots on paper seems a little incongruous but what happens when you press play you are transformed elsewhere, back to the edgy defiance of late 1970's Costello singing with that swagger and accusatory tone. This time it's against a rather bleak backdrop supplied by the Roots, 70's funk and twisted afro beats, strings that add to that sense of uncertainty. It's a gritty album and it's a partnership that works, the album was recorded quickly but at no stage does it sound forced or rushed. To me it's an album that captures something from the past and provides it with a new setting, it's quite brilliant.
Walk Us Uptown is sparse with a hypnotic rumbling bass line, it's a savage indictment on modern society a theme that is reflected throughout the album.
Except to sing our sorrow
Will you walk us uptown
While our tears run in torrents
To suffer in silence or pray for some solace
Will you wash away our sins
In the cross fire and cross currents
As you uncross your fingers
And take out some insurance.
The pulsating funk of Sugar Won't Work depicting that on the precipice of armageddon there is no way out, Costello's caustic lyrics add to the sense of resignation,
Is that a horn that's blowing
Or a bell that's tolling
Walls are falling
Ships pulled from their mooring
Is that a river or just a storm the road has stolen.
Refuse to be Saved is distorted and wailing, in tone it's defiant and beautifully twisted, Costello doesn't want to be saved to bow down before something that is false and corporatised.
The Liberation forces make movies of their own
Playing their Doors records and pretending to be stoned
Drowning out a broadcast that wasn't authorised
Incidentally the revolution will be televised
With one head for business and another for good looks
Until they started arriving with their rubber aprons and their butchers hooks.
Tripwire has this soft mid tempo Motown style melody but he lyrics are dark and threatening, Costello gently pleads that there is a tripwire and that we are through ignorance repeating the same mistakes. On Stick Out Your Tongue the thundering ominous bass returns, the dark clouds roll in and Costello spits out his lyrics. Come the Meantimes sounds a little like Portishead, very stretched out the music feels like it's on a loop.
Lyrically the album is masterful, Costello has always been a writer who can distill the issues of the day and present it full of venom with a tinge of sarcasm but in a very literal and direct way, few writers can connect in that way but Costello certainly does with this record. The Roots are an amazing band they have a pulse that seems fit to burst through their collective skin, ?uestlove is one of the all time great R&B funk drummers. what is most impressive about this project is the willingness of the artists to take a risk and create something that is viable and fresh.