[13 March 2011]
My friend calls them “the bearded three”, and yes, the three primary members of Jukebox the Ghost, pianist Ben Thornewill, guitarist Tommy Siegel, and drummer Jesse Kristin, do have beards, but not like Teenage Fanclub beards. Formed at George Washington University, they’ve been churning out infectious pop for seven years now, but only have one previous album, Let Live & Let Ghosts, which is obviously a take on the religious maxim “let go and let God”, and quite clever, in fact.
So, after this bit of irreverence and non-essential information, let’s get to the music, my favorite part of the review (it doesn’t help me that the presskit totally sucks as far as providing information, anecdotes, history, quotes, and even personnel, aside from everyone harping on the fact that Everything Under the Sun was produced by Peter Katis who’s manned the boards for Interpol and the National, two bands that have absolutely nothing to do with JTG).
We start with “Schizophrenia”, the best song on the album, and one of the best songs of the year. It may be unwise to begin with your strongest material, but the other 10 tracks on here are so brilliant, for the most part, that it isn’t a detriment in this situation. “Schizophrenia” is a successful new-wave throwback, in an era inundated with tired new-wave throwbacks, with melodies more pop than pop, and similarities to the recent output of the Killers and Ra Ra Riot. Careening vocals, brilliant hooks, and multiple parts soundly put together are all things that make this track essential.
“Half Crazy” is a fun new wave/power pop hybrid, recalling the forgotten 4 Out of 5 Doctors and Split Enz. “Empire” is exuberant and so infectious you’ll need a gas mask to stay healthy. “Summer Sun” is a short, pleasant excursion with a definite UK sound (for the longest time I thought these guy were from the UK—you’ll see why if you listen) like early Athlete or the pre-commercial grandiosity of Snow Patrol. “Mistletoe” is another essential aural event, simply oozing melodies so perfect it’s hard to believe they were conceived, and as indebted to the Beatles as it is to Squeeze.
“The Sun” is the only letdown on Everything Under the Sun, and it’s really only a semi-letdown, a sonic Playgirl Hollywood loaf of a song, total madness, and a valiant attempt to subvert pop conventions. Unfortunately, like mid- to late-era XTC, it’s too complicated for its own good, giving you nothing that you can really hold onto. “So Let Us Create” is a perfect rebound from JTG’s only slide toward mediocrity, a piano-driven stomp somewhere between Jeff Lynne and Jason Lytle on anti-depressants, with some impressive, theatrical shots at Freddie Mercury-style vocals. “Carrying” continues this platter of pure pop (sorry), with another total Brit-pop feel, especially early Blur.
There’s an interlude, for some reason, leading into “The Stars”, expertly conceived pop/rock of the Ben Folds ilk, with flavors of new wave and synth-pop, perfectly combining the modern and the retro in one terrifically melodious package. “The Popular Thing” sounds like Jason Falkner and Squeeze recreating the sounds of the Bay City Rollers and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Heaven, I tell ya. Heaven. The album ends as strong as it begins, with “Nobody”, a Jon Brion-cumJeff Lynne jaunt overflowing with hooks like opiates and sporting structural perfection.
Listening to Everything Under the Sun, my mouth was usually agape. I’m a pop guy. Pet Sounds is my favorite album, and power pop is my favorite musical genre. Here, Jukebox the Ghost give me everything I need and more. For those mourning the loss of Jellyfish, Beulah, Blur, or the sounds of XTC’s or Squeeze’s heydays, purchasing this album is a direct order, and not up for debate.