Jukebox the Ghost has been putting out quality albums for the past few years (see especially the pretty amazing Everything Under the Sun), and this one is no exception. But whereas in their last album, JTG was content to be a slightly amped-up Ben Folds (heavy on the keyboards, frenetic pace), here they stretch out a little more, adding more electronica to their beats, and sometimes even slowing things down a bit. There are definitely some songs here that aren’t your typical Ghost material.
The band stretches, but doesn’t break, because at the end of the day, this is pretty much a one man piano band, with Ben Thornewill seemingly doing all of the heavy-lifting (this seems especially evident at their lives show, which have gotten better and better). When the album starts to seem to flag (as in the plodding, dying “Dead”), we can count on another up-beat piano rock song to quickly come to the rescue.
Still, give the Ghost credit for mixing things up with, by nailing the first two songs that don’t fit into their ordinary, piano-y Folds mold. “Emily” is a perfect wail of a relationship song, and “Somebody” (the opening track) is an intense and high octane with an addictive beat. The rest of the album rarely hits as smooth a stride, although “Everybody Knows” comes pretty close with a near perfect chorus. This is Death Cab for Cutie territory, and the band travels it well.
As for the experiments on this album, they don’t always work. The less said about “Dead” (and I’ve already said too much), the better. The third song, “At Last,” starts quietly and with promise, but then builds way, way too fast, until we’re engulfed by horns. The pacing is all off. One gets the feeling that if they held off a little more until the payoff, this would have been a much more satisfying song.
And I want to give the band props for the last song on the album, “Spiritual” — which sounds just like what it says it is — but this isn’t the style for them, even though they nearly pull it off. “Man in the Moon,” the rare song without heavy piano, is quiet and touching, but seems out of place with the other songs on the album.
So the obvious question is, what next for JTG? They seem to have hit their comfort zone with a certain style of song. Everything Under the Sun was full of them, and here there are echoes of that, as in “Adulthood.” Doing this well takes talent, and JTG is chock full of it. But can they move out of their comfort zone, and do it just as well? This is a transitional album, it seems: there are a lot of attempts here to do something new, not all of them successful. Still, it will be exciting to see what they transition to.