Jukebox Fails to Please
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 2, 2012 16:09
Formed just down the road at GWU in 2003, Jukebox the Ghost’s popularity has boomed in recent years. We’ve been fans for a while. Their newest effort, Safe Travels, was released in June, and although we immediately downloaded it, it’s taken us a while to actually give it a thorough listen. To be honest, we could have waited a little longer.
Although our research revealed that the last year has been somewhat emotionally calamitous for the band, that sentiment doesn’t quite come across in the music. The increasingly complex instrumentation — strings play a prominent role in this album — does little to enhance the songs. Their sudden foray into the land of violins and cellos was slightly bewildering; the obvious instrumental confidence that comes across in their considerably leaner debut and their concerts is muddled by this addition. Instead of supporting what singers Ben Thornewill and Tommy Siegel have to say — and what they have to say can be surprisingly affecting — the strings belittle their message.
The off-putting opener and closer don’t help, either. The choice to begin with an immediate falsetto hook on “Somebody” is odd, given how jarring the sudden entrance can be, and ending with a pseudo-gospel reflective piece in “The Spiritual” was ill advised. The bonus track, “A La La,” redeemed the finale, however, with an engaging drum line and effective volume shifts typical of Jukebox’s earlier work. Another highlight was “Ghosts in Empty Houses,” which succeeds in combining the band’s early gusto with an earnestness that evokes They Might Be Giants. Overall, though, the band members seem less confident, and this could be due to the change in sound and emotional significance that accompanies this new album. Maybe it’s because they’re not entirely invested in this new direction, or maybe it’s because they focused more on the smaller details than the bigger picture; the final product is disappointing eitherway.
The increasing complexity in their songs unfortunately puts a damper on the confidence that made their earlier work so appealing, but the album is eminently listenable, especially for those unfamiliar with their past brilliance. If we were to recommend a Jukebox album to a friend, however, we don’t think this would be the one.