Sunday, June 10, 2012

Album Review: Jukebox The Ghost - Safe Travels

Album Rating: B+
Jukebox The Ghost has always been a unique entry in the keyboard based pop rock crowd. Firstly, the band doesn't keep one lead singer or icon, such as a band like Jack's Mannequin, as every member of the band has equal importance, and each vocalist gets a fairly even amount of airtime. The lack of bassist also puts the band in an unusual spot, as deep piano swells usually helps with the rhythm. Finally, the band always had a knack for adding a quirkiness to songs such as "Schizophrenia," "Static" and "Under My Skin" that added a bit of an "anti-mainstream" feel to a genre that's known for it's accessibility. For the band's third album Safe Travels, they made everything a little bigger and more accessible, yet kept their signature Jukebox The Ghost sound and perhaps have inched even closer to perfecting it.

The album is noticeably top heavy, as Jukebox The Ghost placed their catchiest tracks and potential singles up near the front of the album. "Somebody" is an irresistible piano rock song that's already become a live fan favorite due to possibly the band's biggest chorus to date. The repetition keeps it easy to remember while the "whoa-ohs" are perfectly placed, stacking up an even stronger hook next to the already infectious calls of "I want it, I need it, I want somebody." But the most surprising thing about this happy sounding song is how depressing it actually is. Keyboardist and "Somebody's" vocalist Ben Thornewill states "I don't want anymore heartbreak / I'm tired of the sound it makes," exposing surprising lyrical depth away from the simple chorus. Guitarist Tommy Siegel takes over vocals for "Oh, Emily," and while he's obviously the weaker vocalist of the pair, his fairly nasally vocals fit the bouncy track better than Ben's more classically stronger voice. Tommy takes his guitar playing up a notch from the band's previous material, fluttering notes over the more crushing piano chords. But it's another massive chorus that puts "Oh, Emily" near the top of Jukebox The Ghost's material, and along with "Somebody" creates a one-two punch of extreme catchiness atop the album.

"At Last" is a narrative about a man and woman, stating that "he was a songwriter writing songs about a girl / she was a ghostwriter lying to the world." Ben plays fairly different rhythms on both the keyboard and synth just as he usually does live, controlling them as if his two hands were attached to two different minds. "Don't Let Me Fall Behind" finally features drummer Jesse Kristin prominently, and his drums sound much bigger than usual and drive the energy of the song without pause. These songs both use Ben on lead vocals and while the album is pretty much a continuous switching off between Ben and Tommy of the role of lead vocalist, Ben's songs easily take the cake for more creative and better written.  But Tommy receives his best vocal performance on "Dead," at first a minimalist arrangement behind Tommy's ringing piano that builds up to an explosive repetition of the chorus. The band does its best to take advantage of all of their assets, and this use of Tommy as vocalist indicates their willingness to take a risk by putting their weaker vocalist on a vocal centric track.

The second half of the album is where single caliber tracks mostly end and the band's creative prowess takes over. "Adulthood" is another bouncy upbeat piano rocker, but the string quartet (or not) that the band had promised finally shows up, and adds another layer of gorgeous sound to another highlight of the album. "Devils On Our Side" is Ben's "solo" song, featuring only a little bit of cello and his voice over his piano, showcasing his classical piano training more acutely than ever. A lead into the waltzy "All For Love" from "Devils On Our Side" continue the theme of multiple part songs from the band's previous albums. Of course, we can't have a Ben "solo" song without a Tommy "solo" song, and "Man In The Moon" is a short, mostly acoustic ditty with minimal piano and drums. "The Spiritual" brings one of the band's major influences into the forefront of the song. The piano rhythm, harmonies, vocal style and overall feel of the song bring thoughts of John Lennon and "Let It Be," with a church and religious touch to it. It's a perfect closer to the album, combining deep meaning, excellent songwriting, and subtle catchiness.

Jukebox The Ghost is the kind of band that a little extra polish can turn into something absolutely special. The production on Safe Travels is absolutely stunning, as every note feels clearer than on past albums, and hearing them with all this extra gloss is shocking after hearing debut album Let Live & Let Ghosts. This isn't a knock on the songwriting quality of that album, since it is fantastic. But the extra polish has allowed Jukebox The Ghost to expand both their sound and appeal to a larger audience. Safe Travels has something for everyone, and even while they pushed themselves closer and closer to the mainstream, it's in a way that the band should absolutely be proud of. While Jukebox The Ghost may not be a band classically aimed at superstardom, people are looking for something new and different these days. Jukebox The Ghost has the charisma, the passion and the talent to be that new big band.

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Track List:

1. Somebody
2. Oh, Emily
3. At Last
4. Say When
5. Don’t Let Me Fall Behind
6. Dead
7. Adulthood
8. Ghosts In Empty Houses
9. Devils On Our Side
10. All For Love
11. Man In The Moon
12. Everybody Knows
13. The Spiritual

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, Casey.

    I remember checking these guys out a long time ago - might have to take a look into this one.