Let Cool Ghouls be your guide through this museum of classic genre influences.
Bombastic Bay Area boys Cool Ghouls are back with their third album in four years. The prolific quartet open their album, and all their work, with one key objective: to breathe life into old-style rock 'n' roll. They’ve drawn comparisons to Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Doors for their no-frills, though ultimately cheerful, brand of rock. They even featured on a Beach Boys tribute album earlier this year, playing a version of "Here Today" that was among the best tracks of the record. Breathing life into old-school rock 'n' roll is no mean feat, however, and Cool Ghouls should probably feel immensely satisfied with being able to pull it off even some of the time.
There are moments of bliss on Animal Races; the penultimate "Material Love" feels like a Kinks track modernized with retro synthesizers. Impressively, this ‘modernization’ never becomes crass, and Cool Ghouls never get in the way of their own love of classic rock. The middle of the album has more than a tinge of classic folk rock and country about it, kicked off by the slide guitar on "When You Were Gone". The track somehow melds these influences together with a slacker drawl about it. While it would be easy to simply create carbon copies of their predecessors, it seems that Cool Ghouls are not content with that modus operandi, instead preferring to put their own spin on old-school sounds.
However, the band at times is a little too ambitious in their desire to modernize. The opening couple of tracks, "Animal Races" and "Sundial", are reminiscent once again of '70s roots rock, with a touch of Teenage Fanclub for taste. But these tracks lack melodic direction, and the band become tongue-tied. It’s a pity that these tracks were placed at the beginning of the record. Hopefully listeners press on, or "break on through to the other side", as one of the group’s influences may have said, to the latter portion of the album. On the whole, though, Cool Ghouls are effective in presenting a collection of retro-inspired, though never trite, tunes.
Animal Races is something of a journey through the rock giants of yesteryear, presented through the eyes of a quartet of wonderfully energetic musicians who prefer to give us their spin on the past rather than recounting it with objectivity. It’s a record that, for its infrequent misfires, delivers on the band’s desires to resurrect the spirit of rock 'n' roll.