Words by Kris Peters
After their highly impressive debut No Saints In The City last year, Ghosts Of Sunset (singer/songwriter John Merchant and multi-instrumentalist Todd Long) return with the follow-up Breathe.
While No Saints was more conceptually based, telling many interwoven stories of life in New York City and featuring many guest contributions, Breathe sees Ghosts Of Sunset simplifying things a touch to the world of post-punk aggression, melodic rock choruses and a quirky Cheap Trick-type spin on things.
Opening with a bit of static followed by a chunky guitar riff, Afterthought seems like anything but, setting the tone for a trip down sleaze rock lane where the hair was teased up big and the music was tougher than it seemed.
The first thing I notice is the polished production, clean and crisp despite the dirtiness inherent in the music.
This is pure Sunset decadence with layered harmonies and big riffs transporting you back – with no sense of reluctance – to an era too often mimicked but never quite replicated.
Until now, it seems.
Hide Her Heart fades in with a stirring guitar lick and steady drum pattern that soon leads into silky smooth vocals that ooze passion.
This really is meat and potatoes glam rock music but when it’s done this good what could possibly be wrong with that?
Invoking images of Bret Michaels and Vince Neil when they could both fit not their spandex leg-ins, Breathe openly wears its influences on its high heel boots, and, although treading familiar territory, still manages to sound fresh and vibrant.
Move Along kicks into more groove territory with a massive guitar opening more on the rock side of town. Keys pound that pavement in the background as the song morphs into a real mover and shaker that wouldn’t be out of place at a 70s rock revival.
This track has a massive sound while still easing along at a rhythmic tempo that accentuates the strength of both musicians involved with Ghosts Of Sunset.
They know what to leave in, but more importantly what to leave out with their music and this only serves to heighten the experience.
Cocaine Kisses sound good to me, and this track surprises me by coming in as more of a ballad.
Bad coke maybe?
The gravelly vocals here take you straight back to Bon Jovi’s love songs – again, without disrespect to Ghosts Of Sunset. This music is obviously deeply rooted in that era of rock classics but doesn’t come across as a cheesy attempt to replicate glories of days gone by.
Instead, Breathe stands as a testament to the music pumped out from this era and a glowing endorsement that good music is timeless.
A wicked guitar solo mid-way through only serves to prove this point and for once I find myself still listening as a ballad finishes… But don’t tell anyone.
Two Tickets To Tokyo is the hardest-hitting track so far with a massive rumble soon retreating into a more manageable and accessible pop/rock tune.
It is a welcome and uplifting track that showcases another aspect to the music of Ghosts Of Sunset who genuinely seem to be having fun on Breathe.
Tiny bits of punk malevolence creep through at times here and the distorted guitar solo towards the end with what could be a horn section leaving me with a warm and fuzzy feeling leading into Getting Over You.
This fires to life with the measured twang of keys before jigging to life and seemingly onto the airwaves in what would have to be the most radio-friendly track so far.
It’s a love song (I think) without being a ballad which wins instant points of gratification here!
Another well-crafted guitar solo rears its majestic head three parts through, and I suddenly find myself knowing the secret behind just how good this sounds.
Nothing is off-limits for Ghosts Of Sunset musically.
They spread solos with distortion with keys with rumble wherever they see fit and this eclectic assortment of musicality provides a contrasting freshness to the familiarity of the music that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.
Mine Tonight reverberates from one eardrum to the other with a groovy as fuck guitar lick that quickly eases into a measured and controlled soft rock ditty that again steers far from the glam vibe afforded the first few songs.
Despite the varied styles and structures the vocal delivery remains constant and relevant, evolving musically with each sonic disparity between songs. At times anarchic, at others soothing and calm it is a delivery that sustains the many personalities inherent on Breathe and ensures the transition between numbers is flawless throughout.
Don’t Blame Love HAS to be a ballad but again not in the usual mushy way that makes my skin boil. Ghosts Of Sunset seem to have figured out that love can be tough and have reacted accordingly. Sure, it’s still a little whiny at times, but it doesn’t make me want to slash my ankles if that makes sense.
Nobody’s Baby is a mass of guitar sounds with a nice rocking feel that moves along to the beat of shakers before the music retreats and the vocals take centre stage.
This track perfectly showcases the strong vocal delivery over the whole of Breathe. More of a “doo wop” style rock song it still has enough in the way of angst and defiance to give it musical strength.
Which is always welcome.
A scintillating solo punctuates the serenity before trailing back into the familiar formula that lays the groundwork throughout.
Album closer Never Go Back starts with a rush of high hat distraction before settling into a steady tempo and firing the perfect closing salvo to an album that is more than a musical homage to the glory days of glam.
It is an indictment on the fact that although things stay the same on the surface, underneath there is always scope for growth.
And kudos to them for finally being the ones to emphasise the point.