GHOST Doesn’t Go Pop With Popestar
If you have been following Ghost for any amount of time, you’ve probably fallen into one of two camps. One is hardcore pre-Meliora orthodox and the other is post-Meliora protestant. Either way, a band that is smart and ironic enough to snarkily address their move towards more accessible music by titling their new release Popestar deserves your undivided listening attention regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on. In fact, Popestar moves the band beyond their orthodox and protestant phases. “Square Hammer,” the only original Ghost song on the EP, is an evangelical call to worship that rises above the canonical din and will convert more listeners than ever to faith. That’s a large amount of weight for one song to carry, but it’s a strong enough song to carry that weight, and more.
Yes, Popestar’s shining gem, “Square Hammer” is more accessible than most of the band’s other songs, partly because it mentions the band’s favorite mythological figure more obliquely than usual. The specific names of their (tongue in cheek) hero: Lucifer, Asmodeus, Beelzebub, etc. are replaced simply with devil, making the song immediately more radio friendly. To the faithful though, that’s irrelevant. What matters to us is the fact that although the song is tailored to be more accessible, it still manages to be one of the hardest rocking, nay heaviest, tracks they’ve ever recorded. In addition to being such a great rock track, it’s also incredibly catchy. The chorus remains singable every time you hear it, even if it’s the 30th time. The video for “Square Hammer” is just as fun (…fun?!..) as its sing-along chorus. A reverently cheeky homage to the silent horror films of the 1930s, it intelligently comments on Ghost’s rising popularity and fame in the rock world and their impending cross over to the mainstream. A crossover that probably has already happened.
Smart, ironic, and accessible seem to be the buzzwords that I’m associating with Popestar, and an examination of the rest of the EP reveals that they are more than just buzzwords when applied to the band’s choice of songs and artists to cover. Much like their Dave Grohl-produced If You Have Ghost EP, the majority of songs on Popestar are covers. The eclectic collection is fascinating, not just because one of the songs will most likely be so obscure, yet so great, to American listeners (Imperiet’s “Bible”), but because they are from an intriguing cross section of genres. Imperiet were Sweden’s most popular post-punk/new wave band of the 80s (AllMusic), and the tone and subject matter of “Bible” fits perfectly with Ghost’s tone and subject matter. All of which makes for a brilliant choice for a cover song. “Missionary Man,” originally recorded by Eurythmics and released in 1986, is the most straightforward and uninspired of the covers on the album, but honestly, who can add anything to any Eurythmics song? Nevertheless, it’s a smart choice for a cover by a band with slyly anti-religious themes.
The band’s cover of Echo and The Bunnymen’s “Nocturnal Me” takes the revived track (it was recently featured over the end credits of Episode 5 of the Netflix smash Stranger Things) and deepens it into an even more sinister sounding track. The band doesn’t have to work very hard to get spooky or devilish sounding here though. The kind of goth rock that Echo and The Bunnymen dabbled in is arguably a sound that influenced Ghost (much like Bauhaus influenced The Bunnymen), so a cover of one of that band’s most goth sounding songs really isn’t anything special, even if it sounds great.
The most inspired and interesting cover on the EP is “I Believe” by Simian Mobile Disco. A purely electronic track from a purely electronic due, “I Believe” is reworked by Ghost into a hauntingly ambient synth/organ track. There are no guitars. There is very little if any percussion. It’s the weirdest and most uncharacteristically Ghost (cover) song you’ve ever heard to this point. It’s great. It’s also great that there’s only one song like this on the whole EP.
Ghost is evolving. With each subsequent release they get a little more mainstream, but it cannot be said that they’ve gone pop, even if Papa Emeritus III really is a star now, along with the rest of the band. Like true dark ministers of music though, they have figured out how to not only infuse their own work with devilish metal, but also to bring out the devilish metal bubbling just under the surface of others’ works as well.
Ghost are playing The Fillmore Charlotte on November 5th. For more tour dates click here.