[18 November 2013]
Ghost Avenue is the self-titled second album a the band who, on their debut full-length and earlier EP, were known simply as Ghost. There are a lot of throwback metal bands out there, probably enough to qualify for a couple of different subgenres in one of popular music’s most relentlessly subdivided genres. There are bands that take inspiration from the genre’s early ‘70s progenitors, bands that worship at the punk-metal throne of Motörhead, bands that love the early ‘80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, bands that just want to thrash like early Metallica and Anthrax, and bands that combine some of those elements with more modern metal sounds. Ghost Avenue, however, is the first metal band I’ve come across that explicitly recreates the sound of ‘80s hair metal. At least, the first one that’s done it without a trace of irony (hello, Steel Panther and the Darkness!).
There is an admittedly fuzzy line between the material that acts like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were putting out in the early ‘80s and what bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison were doing in the mid-‘80s. But that line becomes clearer in the year 1986. At that point, the Crüe were riding high on two Theatre of Pain’s singles, power ballad “Home Sweet Home” and their cover of “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room”. Meanwhile, Poison’s debut album was hitting it big with “Talk Dirty to Me”. In this era of big hair, big hooks, and big makeup, Ozzy and Judas Priest released The Ultimate Sin and Turbo, respectively. Each album featured poppier songs, synthesizers, and the band members embracing copious amounts of hairspray in their videos. Each album is now considered among the most mediocre of their respective careers as the veteran acts attempted to keep up with the times.
Ghost Avenue, for its part, doesn’t include any synthesizers and none of the band’s promo photos features them with teased-out hair. But it does lovingly recreate all of the other elements of mid-‘80s mid-level hair metal, from the distinctive Ibanez guitar tones to the big, boomy drums, to the high-pitched, thin vocals. Singer Kim Sandvik’s style is reminiscent of Scorpions’ Klaus Meine, as both Europeans (Ghost Avenue is from Norway, Scorpions from Germany) have similar ranges and noticeable accents.
The album itself runs through most of the standard ‘80s hair metal song topics and styles. “The Hunt” is a chugging rocker with the requisite tapped guitar solo and action movie-inspired lyrics that mostly serve as a buttress for the endlessly repeated refrain “Blood in / blood out / prepare to be hunted.” “Crazy Eyes” wants to be the album’s epic centerpiece, telling a tale of a crazed intruder who is subsequently institutionalized. The guitar riffs in the song at least arrive at the interesting intersection of Judas Priest, Quiet Riot, and Cinderella, but the screechy chorus, which goes “We caught a menace to society,” is too high for Sandvik and drags the whole song down.
“All I Can Say” is the required power ballad, opening with acoustic guitars and a backgrounded electric guitar solo. This lays Sandvik’s lyrics right out there for everyone to hear. With awkward lines like “Spent so many times / Looking back at my past” and “This is not the first time / That I’ve done this mistake,” the song inadvertently makes the case for not putting Sandvik prose in the spotlight. “Rock and Roll Tree” is the song extolling the glory of rock and, in this case, weirdly conflating it with the fall of Eden. The album finishes out with “Two Drinks” a rousing paean to alcoholism complete with three-part harmonies and some of the album’s most impressive, catchy riffs. Sure, it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale, technically, but the song is completely focused on the big fun of the guitar harmonies and the refrain that goes “Two drinks every morning / Two drinks every night / Just to make me feel right.” It’s very, very easy to miss the actual lyrics. In that respect, the band apes Mötley Crüe’s “anti-drug” song “Dr. Feelgood” perfectly.
Ghost Avenue is very good at what they do, and this album should have great appeal to its intended audience. The folks who break out their old t-shirts and head out to the arena every time the Crüe or Def Leppard come to town or hit the local club when Dokken or Ratt show up will really love this record. I grew up in the mid-‘80s and I watched a lot of MTV when I was in late elementary and middle school. The hair metal is with me whether I like it or not, and I’ll admit to having a lot of nostalgia for certain songs from that era. For me, though, listening to Ghost Avenue was to hear that style of music stripped of all the nostalgia. Mostly I was reminded of why there was such a sea change in rock music in the early ‘90s and left me confused as to why anyone would want to emulate this particular genre with a straight face. But I’m sure there are rock music fans out there right now in their late 40s and early 50s who are wondering the same thing this year about Daft Punk and their disco fetishization. There’s always someone out there who sees value in music styles that others despise.