Review - Ghost B.C.: Popestar
I should warn you right now that this review is gonna be slightly biased. I’ve loved Ghost’s music ever since their sophomore release, Infestissumam, debuted in 2013. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them play live twice thus far and will take every opportunity to see them again each and every time they’re in town. Now that the disclaimer/devotion is out of the way let’s dig in to their new EP, Popestar, released as a follow up to last year’s magnum opus, Meliora.
Akin to their first EP, 2013’s If You Have Ghost, Popestar is primarily made up of covers with only one original composition on display. These covers include “Nocturnal Me” by post-punk band Echo & The Bunnymen (a song more recently heard in Netflix’s Stranger Things), “I Believe” by electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco, “Missionary Man” by Eurythmics (more widely known for the hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”), and “Bible” by 80’s Swedish rock band, Imperiet.
The first thing I noticed while listening through the EP is how far of a departure it is from Ghost’s more traditional sound. While there may be some debate as to how “metal” Ghost may be, that’s always how I’ve viewed them - a metal group with satanic undertones (or overtones…or just tones…tri-tones). Music nerds will get that joke. However what we have with this release, is a much more pop sound and feel. It becomes sort of obvious as to why they went with the title Popestar. This is in no way a bad thing - let me make that clear. One thing that puts Ghost ahead of a lot of their contemporaries is sheer talent, and that talent is certainly on display once more.
Lets begin with their first track, “Square Hammer”, the only Ghost original on the release. This has that traditional Ghost feel - guitar riffing along with the organ in a sort of late-70s metal style that Ghost has whole-heartedly embraced on many of their best tracks. It has everything I love about Ghost’s music: catchy hooks that beg to be sung along with, some rock n’ roll guitar, Papa’s sultry seductive tones, and a modest encouragement to dance and/or bang your head to the beat. Frankly, that’s why I like Ghost’s live performances so much. It’s an immersive experience that begs for inclusion regardless of your belief system, musical preference, gender, whatever. I’m getting off topic, but this is a great track worthy of the Ghost name.
Next up is Ghost’s take on Echo & The Bunnymen track “Nocturnal Me”. As with all covers Ghost has released in the past, they manage to turn this (relatively) ancient post-punk track into something whole-heartedly Ghost. Chugging guitar compliments the drums in the verse while quiet synths move us through the chorus. One of the best things about the original track is how orchestral the music is with hints of Spanish flamenco undertones. Ghost replicate this to a T, contributing their own flare to the orchestral section and creating layers of beauty in an already beautiful track.
“I Believe” is probably the biggest departure from that traditional sound mentioned earlier. It’s also probably my favorite track on this release. While that is certainly a testament to Simian Mobile Disco’s songwriting (at least for this track as I am not familiar with their their other work), it has to be acknowledged what Ghost brought to the arrangement. There are no wailing guitars, no pounding drums, no hammering bass. It’s just synth lines and Papa. One might even say this is Papa bearing his tormented soul for us. That might be a stretch. In any case, the hook is addictive. They way they were able to take this electronic gem and turn it into a gospel hymn just blows me away. More so because I’m used to hearing Ghost make metal.
Let me butt in real quick and mention that Eurythmic’s music video for “Missionary Man” is pretty great - go check it out (after you've finished reading this and other great reviews, of course). That being said, Ghost NAILED this track. The riff is just everything I gloated about when talking about “Square Hammer”. Papa’s inflection in this track is different than any other song you hear his vocals on. I’m sure this was done to compliment the relatively southern-rock style of the track - there’s even harmonica! - and, while different, works well with the composition. This one is fun to just crank up in the car on that commute home after a long day’s slavin’ for “The Man”. Crank it up!
Finally we have probably the least known track on the album, “Bible” by little-known (unless you’re Swedish, probably) Imperiet. This song reminds me of late Pink Floyd tracks and that might be why I dig it so much. Again, that kind of compliment may be more attributed to the original composers rather than the covering band. However, Ghost has a way of turning just about any track they touch into an anthem - and that’s certainly what they’ve done here. It’s an excellent end to an excellent EP.
All in all the 5 tracks on Popestar are fantastic but, like most of their releases, leave me wanting more. Each time I listened through the EP I kept envisioning what it’d be like to witness a live performance of each track - what would work, what wouldn’t work, etc. It makes me crave more and that’s a good thing! While “Square Hammer” is an excellent edition to Ghost’s already impressive original catalog, it doesn’t really beg the infinite repeat as does “Cerice” or “He Is” from Meliora. The covers, again, are fantastic and while they showcase a departure from the “norm,” they also put on display the massive versatility of the band as a whole. I read in an interview with one of the guitarists that Meliora was a reaction to Year Zero in that keys (piano, organ, etc.) were on display in the latter, so they decided to showcase guitars in the former. I feel like Popestar, ironically enough, is a showcase of the vocals - Papa Emeritus III. I’m happy with it, fans should be happy with it, we’re all excited to see what the future brings (hopefully a return trip to Austin). All in all it gets a major recommendation from me, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for these guys.