Review: Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up: Thought

Wise Up Thought-C+


Elvis Costello’s collaboration with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost, was a slick, professional exercise that nonetheless has grown on me a bit since its initial release in October. It’s still missing the off-the-cuff feel of the best of either Costello or the Roots’ respective discographies, but when it connects, it’s magic. But, no matter how good the album gets, there’s something missing and it’s a piece of The Roots that is absolutely crucial to their sound and success: Black Thought.

Black Thought’s absence on Wise Up Ghost felt like a missed opportunity, but that’s quickly remedied on Wise Up: Thought, an EP released on Record Store Day filled with four remixes and three interludes. While Black Thought only makes an appearance on the reworked “Cinco Minutos Con Vos”, it’s an effective one, using the MC’s flow and wordplay to full effect. As the opener, it does set unreal expectations for the rest of the EP, but it’s such a relief to hear The Roots with their mouthpiece that it’s almost worth the price of admission alone. “Cinco Minutos Con Vos” was already a highlight on Wise Up Ghost, but here it becomes something else entirely, with The Roots standing up to the occasion, pushing Costello into the background and letting their music do the talking.

Nothing else quite reaches the highs of that first track, but that’s because the rest of the EP is filled with remixes that offer subtle (sometimes too subtle) alternative takes of some of the best tracks off of Wise Up Ghost. “Tripwire” may not seem too different on the surface, but it’s been pushed through an almost vinyl-like sheen to give the feel that you’re listening to an old 45. It’s an appropriate mix given the song’s doo-wop origins, and it makes for an intriguing spin that doesn’t take away from what made the original so good. There’s also a completely new version of “Walk Us Uptown”, eschewing the original instrumentation to focus solely on the rhythms of Questlove’s drums and Costello’s voice. Where the original mix of the song was busy in its effort to accentuate the feel of life in the city, this one is pure minimalism, letting Costello do the heavy lifting before it delves into a cacophony of sounds as the record comes to a close.

Wise Up: Thought isn’t essential for fans of Costello or The Roots. But, as a companion piece to Wise Up Ghost it expands on their collaboration and even manages to ensure Black Thought gets his time to show why he is still one of the best MCs in the game. It may not be a must-have release, but for those who want a little more from this potential one-off collaboration, Wise Up Thought will quench that thirst.

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