Monday 24 July 2023

Ghost - Phantomime (2023)

Country: Sweden
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 11 Feb 2022
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As I mentioned in my review of their 2022 album, Impera, I enjoy Ghost but I've never fallen for the band in the way that so many of my friends have, often those who aren't overt rock/metal fans. In a way this EP helps, because it sees the band consistently walking a very difficult line that few are able to manage. I'm talking about cover versions and the tricky balancing act that is making them your own without reinventing them. Somehow these five songs sound like the originals, which are a diverse bunch, but also like Ghost. That's an impressive feat.

Well, I presume they all do, because I don't know the opener at all. It's See No Evil, a Television song that isn't Marquee Moon, the one that everyone seems to cover and nobody really has a reason to, except a wildcard like the Kronos Quartet. I've probably heard the original but I don't recognise it, so can't compare it without looking it up and I want to preserve my ignorance for now to counter the fact I know the other four. Well, again, I don't know the second one, which is an unusual Genesis choice, Jesus He Knows Me, but I do know Genesis and this sounds acutely like Phil Collins-era Genesis, so I can assume it's pretty close.

The rest I do know. In keeping with an apparent punk mindset, there's also Hanging Around by the Stranglers, released in the same year of 1977 as the Television track, and Phantom of the Opera, a Paul Di'Anno-era Iron Maiden gem that I've always felt was a tasty combination of old school prog rock that was firmly out in the British musical landscape of 1980 and the energy of NWOBHM that was firmly in, with Maiden's debut album at its vanguard. Of course, those two Di'Anno led albums have plenty of punk in them too, but there's no punk in Tina Turner's We Don't Need Another Hero except in the wastelanders in the music video.

That's quite a range, from pop songs from Genesis and Tina Turner through the post-punk sound of Television and the Stranglers to the energy-driven heavy metal of Iron Maiden. However, these are somehow true to their originals, maintaining something of their essence and with Papa Emeritus IV shifting his voice a little each time to cater to that, but also consistent to the Ghost approach. It feels like a Ghost album, or at least EP and given that it's done and dusted in twenty-four minutes, as well as a bunch of covers.

That unusual accomplishment is the most impressive aspect to me. They're all good songs that are good together here, even if it doesn't sound like they should be, and that's quite the feat. Is there something that will convert me to the rabid Ghost fanbase, though? No, but I'll raise my respect a notch. As enjoyable as these versions are and as well as they're slotted into the Ghost framework, none of them are essential. They're all enjoyable but none were really needed.

And I can't really call out a highlight because they all do the same job in the same consistent way. I might end up plumping for Phantom of the Opera just because it was my favourite going in. Sure, Papa Emeritus doesn't provide the "oh yeah" at the beginning and they don't keep the hidden bit at the end that has been catching DJs out for forty plus years now, but it's a cover that doesn't at all piss me off, which is one win, and actually impresses, which is another. It's not Maiden, shorn of a little of its energy, but that's OK. Few bands carry the energy they had back then.

I wasn't planning to make today an EP day but that's how it worked out. I placed this one second as Ghost are easily the bigger name nowadays, not just here in the States but internationally, but, if I could only keep one, it would be the Pendragon without hesitation. And then I might throw on the Iron Maiden debut because it's been a while.

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