Friday 12 April 2024

Blue Öyster Cult - Ghost Stories (2024)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Nineteen years elapsed between Blue Öyster Cult's thirteenth album, Curse of the Hidden Mirror, and their fourteenth, The Symbol Remains, so we probably shouldn't complain that it took merely four to get to number fifteen. However, this is supposedly their final studio effort, which makes it a little more worrying that it's not made up of new material. Well, it's new to us but it isn't to the band because, with one exception, it's material left off three older albums from the seventies and eighties. That exception is the closer, If I Fell, a Beatles cover, that they recorded in 2016.

The good news is which three albums we're talking about, because they're ones that contain huge songs. The oldest is Spectres from 1977, the home of Godzilla. Then there's 1981's Fire of Unknown Origin, which gave us Burnin' for You. Finally, there's The Revölution by Night, originally released in 1983, which features arguably their most underrated song ever, Shooting Shark. The bad news is that these songs were clearly left off those albums for a reason. They're not bad songs, not really, though some are just there. However, few of them could fairly argue about not being included on those albums, even if BÖC diehards consider them "lost gems", as the press releases suggest.

The best of them to me are almost bookends. Late Night Street Fight is a strong opener that has some real funk to it, not only through the prominent bass of Joe Bouchard, who isn't in the band now but was back then. Don't Come Running to Me almost at the end of the album, with only that Beatles cover still to come. It feels raw but I don't mind that, because there's an edge to it and I'm not certainly averse to BÖC with an edge. It's especially good because the edge isn't just courtesy of the guitars, which deliver some wonderful power chords, but also the drums, presumably from Albert Bouchard. These are the two that live up to the "lost gems" suggestion in my book.

Of course neither Bouchard brother is in the band any more, even if Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma are, and that leads to another odd feeling. We might think that the final album from a legendary band like Blue Öyster Cult ought to showcase their final line-up as a goodbye but this one doesn't, even if Richie Castellano, who's played keyboards and rhythm guitar with them since 2007, stepped in to plug some holes in the partial recordings, just as Joe Bouchard recorded a new lead vocal on So Supernatural, even if he isn't in the band. These weren't all complete songs in the archives. It's likely that most were partial recordings that needed not just remastering but completing.

Three of the songs are covers and they're all decent enough, but none of them does anything new that the originals didn't. Sure, there's a wonderful seventies organ sound on We Gotta Get Out of This Place, the old Animals classic, but Kick Out of the Jams is just there, even if it was a favourite on stage. It's not a patch on the MC5 orignial. The third is that newer take on If I Fell, an odd choice from the Beatles catalogue, from way back in 1964 on their A Hard Day's Night album. It's the shortest song on offer here and it's a studio jam done acoustically that feels a little out of place. It certainly couldn't have been placed anywhere else on the album.

Some of the other songs are worthy of note, even if they don't sit up there with the two highlights. Cherry aches to be commercial from the outset and unfolds in harmonies. It's like the Beach Boys doing old time rock 'n' roll, except there's a jangle to the guitar that they'd never sanction. Shot in the Dark starts out with a minute of intro that's spoken word monologue over piano jazz, as if the band were hanging out in a lounge bar. And talking of lounge, The Only Thing is extra-smooth, like it's a psychedelic disco lounge ballad. I'm not unhappy that I heard these, but I can see why they're not on those old albums.

The rest are just there, not particularly bad but without anything notable to add. They'd all count as filler on a regular album and so didn't make it onto stronger albums. Some of them could have served as B-sides for singles, though Soul Jive seems like an idea that hasn't been developed yet, even with whatever was done in the studio to finish these songs up. The only other song I ought to talk about is So Supernatural, the one with Joe Bouchard's new vocal. It felt weak to me initially, but it builds well and I found myself getting into it more and more as it ran on. Tellingly, listening afresh took me through the same cycle each time. The first minute is just there, but the chorus is decent and it gets better and better until it's almost another highlight.

And so this is Blue Öyster Cult's final studio album. It's not bad. It's interesting. It's no classic. The problem for me comes back to that single word: "final". If the band hadn't mentioned that, then I would bet that fans would welcome this a lot more than they seem to be doing. It's decent and it's a look back at a couple of eras in the band's output that could be seen as heydays. Sure, it's clearly an album for the diehards, but it could have reached further. However, weighing it down with that "final" word means that it's the end of a stellar career that's run over half a century and it's not an emphatic goodbye.

No comments:

Post a Comment