A few years ago, we went to see Bob Dylan play, and it was one of the most crushingly disappointing performances we've ever seen. Not because he'd rearranged songs, and not because he didn't play some classics -- the overriding problem of the entire thing was simple: he rolled through the set with so little enthusiasm or even interest that it was like paying to watch an old man fall asleep into a bowl of soup. It wasn't about his age. It was about him simply not giving a shit anymore.
That's what happens sometimes -- artists reach a certain level, get called a legend one too many times, and they start taking their audience for granted. They know people are going to continue to show up to see them regardless of what they do, or what they put out, and they know that once the "legend" title has been granted, it never gets overturned. Which might explain Elvis Costello's half-arsed performance on new track, "Walk Us Uptown" -- a collaboration with the Roots.
This, ladies and gents, is not the recording of someone who particularly gives a shit anymore. The lovely gents of the Roots were nice enough to put together a kick-ass track for Costello to croon over, and he phones in a performance that, at best, gives us some insight as to what he sounds like singing in the shower.
We understand throwing down vocals in a laid-back manner. We understand the random nature of jamming. But seriously, Elvis? That point 36 seconds in, when your voice cracks, breaks and hits a bum-note? You're not gonna re-do that? Really? Because it would take you about 30 seconds to fix. You also could've taken an additional 30 seconds to fix the point where it happens again, at the 1:26 minute mark.
Now, we know this sounds like nit-picking. And really, it is. But that's what you're supposed to do when you record a song -- you nit-pick until you get everything right. We're pretty sure that Elvis Costello wouldn't have left such obvious vocal flaws on his earliest recordings, when he was still making a name for himself, so why is it okay to do now? Don't the Roots deserve better? Or the audience, for that matter? Having bum notes caused by an obvious vocal crack left in a song doesn't add character to the track, it ruins it -- especially when Costello sounds so exhausted for the entirety of this thing.
Costello and the Roots have a full album of collaborations out on Sept. 17, titled Wise Up Ghost. We're still excited to hear it -- but we can only hope Costello isn't this sloppy on every track, because the potential for greatness with this project is enormous.