[Sneak Peek]: Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

tumblr_mo8cur8zrs1qb2mk2o1_500“Keep a red flag flying, keep a blue flag as well / And a white flag in case it all goes to hell.”

A friendship born on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where The Roots have served as Fallon’s house band since the show’s premiere in 2009, Elvis Costello and Questlove (The Roots’s drummer and co-frontman) are set to release their full-length collaborative LP, Wise Up Ghost, tomorrow. The odd-couple, much? Probably, but looking at their respective career trajectories, Elvis Costello and Questlove have a lot in common. Both have been slow-burners and neither have shied away from making unpredictable career moves or bothered making distinctions between what their music should or should not be about. Also, neither have qualms about letting their social opinions known on record: The Roots have recorded challenging albums commenting on social inequality and dissatisfaction in America on albums such as Things Fall Apart and Rising Down, while Costello’s protests range from the furious (‘Radio Radio’, ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’) to the beaten down (‘Shipbuilding’). It is fitting then, that some songs on Wise Up Ghost grew out of reworking some of Costello’s angriest songs (‘Stick Out Your Tongue’ came from ‘Pills and Soap’) and that ‘Walk Us Uptown’ should be an equal meeting of Costello’s  admonishments and Questlove’s musical sensibilities.

The album’s cover art being presented in the distinctive style of the old City Lights pocket poetry volumes is not fanciful, as ‘Walk Us Uptown’ very much has the feel of a modern beat poem. The traditional jazz accompaniment has moved on to encompass hip-hop and rock and roll and it feels like natural continuation of where Gil Scott-Heron left off with his final volume, I’m New Here. Jarring samples and punk staccato guitar punctuate the mix, while Questlove’s drumming is busy yet downplayed. Rather than a lively beat it is a monotonous shuffle, simmering with the same malice as the beat on Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’. This sense of unease is heightened by the edgy piano chords which permeate the track and the sound of a distant train fading in and out. Meanwhile, the world view of ‘Walk Us Uptown’ remains as bleak and apocalyptic as anything Allen Ginsberg or Amiri Baraka saw, full of degradation and barely suppressed fury. Costello has been long recognised as a wordsmith and here he sounds like a man reading out newspaper headlines, an endless litany of frustration and bile which is broken only occasionally by the refrain “Will you walk us uptown?”, which sounds more like a demand than a question.

This is anti-easy-listening music. Disguised behind ‘Walk Us Uptown’s catchy and listenable veneer, lies a challenging and troubling core, which Ben Greenman articulates when musing on Wise Up Ghost‘s title in his ambitious introduction to the album: “Often, [ghosts] are spirits left behind because they failed to demonstrate the appropriate acumen in life. Are we now, as a species, risking this kind of nightmare? Can we learn enough to prevent a purgatorial future?”. This is a tall order to fill, but, like the best of any art form, ‘Walk Us Uptown’ does not present answers. Rather it provokes questions in the consumer and, hopefully, we may derive some answers for ourselves.

Wise Up Ghost is available in record stores tomorrow through Blue Note Records.


[Sneak Peek]: Pearl Jam – Mind Your Manners

Lightning Bolt

“I’ve lost my patience, my patience tried”

As a major Pearl Jam fan, the release of a new album is something of an event. As one of the only surviving bands from the early 90’s Seattle music scene, they’ve had a long time to stretch their music into various areas, from furious alternative rock to quieter and more poignant moments. After they realised their inner Who on BackSpacer I was interested to see where the band would go next, and if lead single ‘Mind Your Manners’ is any indication it is a very dark place indeed.

Backspacer was a record about coming to terms with age and mortality, and so in ‘Mind Your Manners’ it is exciting to see the band leaning back towards their more socially-outraged side, last seen on 2006’s Pearl Jam. We are firmly back in the territory of Vs. where the band was at it’s most aggressive, as Matt Cameron’s relentless drums and Mike McCready’s sinister guitar line cuts through the mix on ‘Mind Your Manners’. Meanwhile, Eddie Vedder’s anxious lyrics, loaded with feelings of futility and images of governmental hypocrisy, are delivered in Vedder’s characteristic roar. ‘Mind Your Manners’ is a rabid dog on a weakening leash and sounds like the twin of ‘Spin The Black Circle’, nearly twenty years delayed. The sheer aggressive energy threatens to derail the song at any moment, but Pearl Jam have honed their craft and their rage long enough to keep things on track.

As with the lead single from Backspacer, ‘The Fixer’, I was initially unimpressed by ‘Mind Your Manners’. However, Pearl Jam are a band whose music, though attention grabbing, does not reveal itself all at once. There are always subtle tricks which you miss first time around, even on their most simple songs like ‘Lukin’, and it is only after repeated listens that ‘Mind Your Manners’ reaches its full potential. And so if ‘Mind Your Manners’ is any indication, then Lightning Bolt looks set to be a dark and riffy ride.

‘Mind Your Manners’ is available to download now. Lightning Bolt will be released 15th October 2003 through Monkeywrench Record 

[Sneak Peek]: Johnny Marr – ‘The Right Thing Right’


‘Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine…’

Tomorrow morning Johnny Marr’s long anticipated solo album, ‘The Messenger’, will land. Halle-bloody-lujah for that. Like Jack White’s solo release last year, the anticipation and hype surrounding the album has been huge. Not that there has been any real lack of Marr material since the break-up of that band. Whether adding some of his magic to various outfits such as Modest Mouse or Billy Bragg (credited as Duane Tremolo), lending a hand to soundtracks or fronting The Healers, Marr’s output over his career has been so prolific and varied that he puts much younger and more popular musicians to shame.

I’m a sucker for ‘Side One, Track One’ moments which set the tone for the album, and as the first track on Marr’s debut solo album, ‘The Right Thing Right’ is definitely a statement of intent. Marr’s in-yer-face guitar and the anthemic call-and-repeat chorus self-referentially gestures towards Britpop, a genre which he had a massive influence on. Meanwhile, there is the unmistakable beat and groove of Motown records that acted as the bonding impetus for the Marr/Morrisey songwriting partnership in the first place. Marr’s vocals, and the track in general, drips with Northern-English attitude and reinstates Marr’s reputation for soundtracking the North. Moving away from the Alt. Rock riffage, other tracks on The Messenger will apparently feature more of Marr’s psychedelic influences which I am definitely looking forward to. Even as recently as ‘The Last Ride‘, Marr’s flair for trippy guitar histrionics remains as exciting as ‘How Soon Is Now’ or ‘The Queen Is Dead’.

Like The Smiths’s music, you’ll either love it or hate it (Oh, the obvious Marr-mite pun!). However, if ‘The Right Thing Right’ is any indication, Marr’s decision to make his solo debut thirty years into his musical career is motivated out of inspiration rather than pandering to demand and The Messenger is set to be a barnstormer.

The Messenger will be released tomorrow and Johnny Marr will embark on a UK tour in March 2013.