[schema type=”review” name=”Ghost – Popestar” description=”Label: Loma Vista/Spinefarm” author=”Sarp Esin” pubdate=”2016-09-16″ ]
Back in 2010, when Ghost first arrived at the blossoming (occult rock) scene, they were derided harshly by their latter-day peers as being a gimmick wired for the mainstream. Six years have passed and the band went from the hot new thing to the world stage. Clearly there is something to Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls, as they are back, hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed (and delicious) 2015 release “Meliora”, with a new EP, tentatively titled “Popestar”.
What’s in a title, you ask?
Well, for one thing, it’s indicative of what’s waiting for you: a barrage of songs all playing with the concept of pop and what can be considered poppy, only twisting it all in a cauldron of pure rock blasphemy, the kind that Ghost excels at. It indicates the baptism that the songs covered must undergo to be born anew. Also, bluntly, this EP is Ghost necessarily at their poppiest, but, as always, with a dark (or, darkly humorous) twist. As such, each song deserves its own mention.
First and foremost is the only original Ghost composition on this EP, “Square Hammer”. This one embodies the spirit of Ghost (no pun intended) perfectly. With a Hammer Horror / Hammond-and-rock vibe carried on by good riffs, almost-cheesy keyboards, pounding drums and a soaring, earworm hook, it’s the perfect opener that leaves you thirsty for more. More you will get, but the rest of the EP is a series of cover songs. For this one, however, it is safe to say that it’s everything that was right and fun with “Meliora” and taken one step further – it feels effortless, and is sure to become a permanent fixture in their setlist.
“Nocturnal Me” used to be a moody, somewhat flamenco-inspired Echo and the Bunnymen song with a twilight vibe, reminiscent of high stone walls, arrows and capes – a generally medieval mood. Ghost took it from the open castle grounds and pulled it into the dungeons (especially with the sound effects!), invoking a much more enclosed, mysterious vibe, following the Ghost tradition of remaining epic, even when slightly more aetherial than just that.
“I Believe” was once a dance track from the English electronic group Simian Mobile Disco, replete with vibrato synths, drum machines, choir-like vocals in the chorus and a head-bobbing rhythm. Ghost decided to keep its overall mood, a rather aetherial, soft drapery of sound. Instead of carrying the song with rhythm and melody, Ghost leads with Papa Emeritus’s vocals, the choir-like backing vocals on top of it, which is accompanied by the bare bones of rhythm. To be honest, this one feels like an interlude than a song, which, for an EP, is not a very good thing.
Up next is a change of pace. “Missionary Man”, a big Euryhtmics hit on the year that I was born, was and is badass 80’s rock, albeit with a harmonica featured prominently throughout. Ghost decided to inject more rock into the song, and to support that with prominent keyboards, the whole thing culminating in a rather psych-like sound. The twist is, they did preserve the harmonica solo from the original, so there’s something you don’t hear every day. Hands down, this track is second only to “Square Hammer”. Well played.
Finally, “Bible” by the Swedish act Imperiet, which was a quaint little number that, upon a listen, seems right up Ghost’s alley. On “Popestar”, it’s a full-on pop ballad going on power ballad – complete with choir support and soaring moods after the halfway point. As a closer, however, I think it’s weak for the reason that it’s the same old album closer that you’ve heard many, many times already, no matter what your genre is. From a band that gave us “Genesis” and “Deus in Absentia”, I think the ending could’ve been chosen better.
Now, here’s what you should take away from this article and this EP: at the heart of “Popestar” is the kind of fun and enjoyment you see in its title. It’s a special type of (tongue-in-cheek Satanic) cheese on top of a crust of solid rock. The entertainment value of Ghost was always very high, and they’ve always “acted” serious but never were, not in a conventional sense. This doesn’t change with “Popestar”, but if the previous albums were fun, this one is positively giddy, and it will bring a smile to your face while showering you with enjoyable little sermons, even if they are not entirely their own.
01. Square Hammer
02. Nocturnal Me
03. I Believe
04. Missionary Man