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Let’s face it – there’s a certain formula to a band or artist’s career. Either their debut album catapults them into stardom to heights they’ll never attain again, or they’ll slowly build on each release and maintain a level of consistency before people complain about them getting stale.
After 20 years as a band, it’s no wonder Lucero wanted to celebrate that milestone, especially from a band that’s managed to buck the aforementioned formula by maintaining consistency across nine studio albums.
After adding (to the horror of some fans) horns and other “funkier” elements into their past studio albums, Lucero essentially go back to their roots on Among The Ghosts. It’s the same brand of sweaty rock ‘n’ roll fans can expect, only much tighter and with a better focus.
It’s unclear whether this was made to be a concept album, but themes of despair, loneliness and a disconnect from society certainly anchor the project. Frontman Ben Nichols’ unique growling, gravelly voice is on full display as he explores the toll his career has had on himself and his family on the title track. It’s fierce, angry and sharp. The minor chords combined with the roaring chorus really push this over the edge to become one of their best tracks.
Actually, “Bottom Of The Sea” can also challenge the title track as the best of the bunch here. On the surface, this song deals with depression head on, but it’s the way its portrayed that really makes it a highlight. The atmospheric tones create a somewhat hazy, lost feel, and the steady percussion keeps it going because well … these problems don’t always just plod along. Combine all of that with the brilliant imagery and metaphors, and this album starts off with some of the best tracks of 2018.
Another underrated element of what can make this album work well is its fusion of piano with minor chords. The piano helps drive the melodies while the minor chords set things up nicely for the lyrical content, thus allowing for more variety. Therefore, tracks such as “Everything Has Changed” and “Cover Me” can afford to be a bit more menacing or energetic while “Always Been You” comes across more delicately.
Themes of war are alluded to and made the center focus on “Cover Me” and “To My Dearest Wife,” respectively. The album’s theme of disconnect makes it seem like the war is a metaphor for the battle in the narrator’s mind rather than something actually happening. “To My Dearest Wife” even shifts the tone entirely to something more optimistic, with the narrator in question fighting to overcome the darkness in his mind to make things right.
Of course, as evidenced on “Long Way Back Home,” there’s a lot more to the process than just that. No matter what, the struggle will be an arduous one, and that’s certainly something people struggling with depression or anxiety have felt.
Unfortunately the album never really leaves the listener with any closure after that. “Loving” is a song re-recorded from when Nichols wrote it for his brother’s movie of the same name, but while the acoustic track is a nice change of pace, it also suffers from plodding along. It never truly takes off.
“Back To The Night” finds Nichols and Michael Shannon taking turns with the song, and while this tag-team effort is a nice, unexpected touch, Shannon feels like he rolled out of bed to perform his part. Sure, his delivery is meant to be more sinister and haunting, but the band already captured these emotions on other tracks in a less gimmicky way.
The closer, “For The Lonely Ones” is the ultimate head-scratcher, with the band tipping their hat recent albums with the inclusion of an upbeat saxophone to create an odd, out of place celebratory mood. Plus, Nichols sounds like he’s singing in a garbage can at first. On top of that, it’s the lightest track lyrically. While the first half of the album includes some of the band’s best songs, it’s those final three songs that steer the album off track.
Overall though, while the story is never fully realized on Among The Ghosts, the band is just as good as ever. Fans of the band’s older material will find plenty to love here, and considering most bands see a dip in quality somewhere along the way, Lucero has plenty more to celebrate than just 20 years together.
- Best tracks: “Bottom Of The Sea,” “Among The Ghosts,” “Everything Has Changed,” “Long Way Back Home”
- Worst track: “For The Lonely Ones”