This is the hardest review of the series for me to write. I must honestly say I’m still struggling somewhat with Pepper’s Ghost.
In the Immortal? thread I remarked that Immortal? is easily the best of the “separate songs” albums. You’d say that Pepper’s Ghost actually has the better cards for that position. It’s a consistently solid album, whereas Immortal? is a bit of a mixed bag. Yet there’s something lacking somehow, that’s hard to pinpoint. If there’s truth in Clive’s observation that their odd numbered albums tend to be their finest (i.e. the even numbered ones less so), Pepper’s Ghost is a case in point. This may have to do with the fact that the odd numbered ones are the concept albums, which arguably is what Arena do best. And Contagion surely is a tough one to beat.
I do enjoy Pepper’s Ghost, it’s a strong set of tracks that rocks and has many great hooks and choruses, but it leaves me slightly cold, I’m not totally captured by it. Maybe it has something to do with the sound, production and mix of the album. It sounds somewhat sterile and less warm. Also, I think Rob’s vocals are different. He seems to be reciting the lyrics, not living and breathing them with passion, conviction and emotion like he does on Contagion, where he is
Noah. But it must be said that lyrics themselves are less direct and personal as well, more abstract. I discussed this with Clive and he pointed out the first part of The Shattered Room as one of the quiet, emotional moments, but it’s really not the same thing as, say, Mea Culpa (or Friday’s Dream, Tears In The Rain, Crying For Help IV, the first parts of Sirens and Jericho).
The artwork is also very different. I like the comic book style and Victorian setting. But while it’s a good thing that the band don’t take themselves too seriously (depicted as the members of a sort of league of extraordinary gentlemen, a demon squad), it does take some of the magic away. The dark flavour that’s characteristic for Arena is still there, but it’s rendered harmless by the ironic undertones and therefore unconvincing. I like the idea behind the title of the album, but it’s not a great title as such, it does not have to same impact as the titles of the other albums, it’s less immediate. Like Immortal? the album is a conceptual album about the “seven signs of madness”.* The first and the last track are about demons the team has to deal with, the tracks in between are about their respective backgrounds and personalities, their own personal demons.
The tracks then. Opener Bedlam Fayre is heavy, one of the heaviest pieces Arena have recorded. Great riffing and keys, lots of variation, powerful track. Smoke And Mirrors has the Arena wall of sound with massive keys and swirling guitars. Solid and quite catchy track. Then the epic from which this forum derives its name.I have to say that as a whole this track doesn’t really work for me. Too many ideas that don’t flow well. After the nice quiet intro, it starts with a recycle of the Painted Man theme but without the power. I do like the riffing finale and keyboard solo a lot and especially “watch your back and stay awake” is catchy. The Eyes Of Lara Moon is one of my favourites on the album, like Smoke And Mirrors a fairly straightforward but effective track, with its sinister keyboard tones. Nice one. I had to look up what the next track is, Tantalus. Doesn’t ring many bells. Fine track really, but the fact that I’d forgotten it cannot be a good sign. Purgatory Road on the other hand is simply great. Again the classic Arena wall of sound with massive keys and power chords, I love this, a real highlight. Great chorus and the “I’m here to stay” bit is one of the catchiest parts on the album, impossible not to sing along. The epic closer Opera Fanatica is as crazy as its title suggests. Very different from anything else Arena have done. Instrumental fireworks combined with a great chorus, a killer track.
So not a bad album at all, on the contrary. And yet.. (go back to top)
* Clive interview http://www.verglas.com/cage_page/login/follow/follow_pepper_interview.htm