Costello and The Roots make magic

This collaboration feels so natural that one hopes it overflows into more recordings, more performances. The Roots punctuate Costello’s free-flowing verses and coincidental choruses with fun flourishes, balancing Costello’s ’80s songwriting with contemporary beats.

The single, “Walk Us Uptown,” is a great starting point for both the record and for audiences to be introduced to the album.

Costello’s lyrics slay at every turn – my favorite part is when he says “Keep a red flag flying/ Keep a blue flag as well/ And a white flag in case it all goes to hell.” And every instrumental part is dead-on, from the slinky piano line to the lurching bass.

Costello told Rolling Stone that the recording process was done in a patchwork style. He recorded piano, guitar and bass parts over Questlove beats and then sent the tapes back to New York for more mixing. He called it “an editorial way of recording.” Well, you could’ve fooled me. The tunes sound so fluid and playful that I would’ve guessed they were recorded by a live band playing off each other.

One key to the success here is how expansive most of the songs sound due to Costello being at ease with the material. There’s always more to be found in his words, always some twist of emotion or final acceptance that keeps things interesting. If you don’t feel anything as Costello repeats “I refuse to be saved,” at the end of the song of the same name, I can’t help you.

Many reviewers have been commenting that Costello stole from himself a lot for this album – that some of the verses here were written as long ago as 1983 (which would also account for some of the retro feel). I can’t really comment on that. I’m not that familiar with Costello’s work, so I don’t know how it feels for long-time fans to hear old words in a new tune. All I know is that to me, this album should be a model for how to write pop songs, remixed old elements and all (most pop has been collage for the last 20-plus years anyway).

One of my favorite songs is “Tripwire,” which places the terrifying thought of someone tripping into an explosion at the heart of a ’50s-style rock ‘n’ roll ballad. It’s an unsettling juxtaposition and highlights the unification of diverse elements, which is a major strength of this record.

I’m wondering how The Roots younger fans will react to Costello’s retro songwriting style. My advice, in the words of Costello, “Just because you don’t speak the language doesn’t mean that you can’t understand.”