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Review series: "Pepper's Ghost"

Started by PH, Mon, 2011-11-28, 12:59:22

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Hello all!

Time to review Arena's sixth album: "Pepper's Ghost"! *horns*

For everyone who have no idea of what is going on: take a look at the "Songs From The Lions Cage" reviews thread. It's all explained there!

24 October - 30 October: "Songs From The Lions Cage"
31 October - 6 November "Pride"
7 November - 13 November "The Visitor"
14 November - 20 November "Immortal?"
21 November - 27 November "Contagion"
28 November - 4 December "Pepper's Ghost"
5 December - 11 December "The Seventh Degree Of Seperation"

"Pepper's Ghost"

From today (28 November) till Sunday (4 December) we will review Arena's sixth album! Good luck and have fun!


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
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..


In my opinion it was just impossible to top their previous album 'Contagion'. Still there's a lot to enjoy on 'Pepper's Ghost'. Arena always succeeds in creating a great opening track. 'Bedlam Fayre' is no exception. A chorus that keeps stuck in your head, just like the 'Smoke and Mirrors' one. It's easy to pick a favourite track on this album, 'The Shattered Room'. Another great Arena epic 8). I find 'The Eyes of Lara Moon' and 'Tantalus' average Arena tracks. Like them but nothing special and the last two tracks don't do that much for me. 'Opera Fanatica' is a song I won't skip, but it's 'a bridge too far' for me ::).
'I will surrender my heart to the sky
Oh, our love doesn't end here, it lives forever on the wings of time'
Toto - Wings of time (Kingdom of Desire)


Quote from: Teunis on Wed, 2011-11-30, 20:45:12
It's easy to pick a favourite track on this album, 'The Shattered Room'.

Not only fave track, Teunis, but also fave forum  8)

So you've come of age
And so you want to meet God
Sure you can
He's right here next to me



Because of this review thread, I've listened to Pepper's Ghost again a few times over the past few days (after not having listened to it for a few years), hoping to find that maybe my view of it has changed over time.

It hasn't.  :o

It's not a bad album, but sandwiched between Contagion and The Seventh Degree Of Separation, it's by far the weakest of the three, and still my least favourite Arena album. All of their albums apart from this one are very strong, but to me, this one is still the runt of the litter.

I always state that such views are subjective, which is why musical tastes are so diverse and an interesting debating point! :)

The high points of the album to me are "Bedlam Fayre" and "The Eyes Of Lara Moon". The rest of it sounds "tired" to me. A band possibly in need of a break and not quite on top form?

I think the hiatus has definitely benefited "the Seventh Degree...." and whereas I used to get frustrated at long gaps between albums from bands, I'm at the point in life where quality wins over quantity every time, and I'd sooner wait for a band to have quality material for all songs on an album and absolutely no fillers. That's what "Seventh..." sounds like to me; the sound of a band that is refreshed and invigorated and full of new ideas with no weak tracks. I mean, look at the gaps between Peter Gabriel albums! :)  And of course "Every Year is getting shorter" as you get older, so a wait of years when you're 47 isn't half as bad as when you're 23 and a 1/2!

All subjective of course! :)

Derek Cook


Good job we're all different Derek and I have to disagree with you :) For me Peppers Ghost is not too far behind Contagion in top spot* and for me is the equal of Immortal?
A fine album with some of my favourite Arena tracks, Shattered Room, Eyes Of Lara Moon, Purgatory Road and Opera Fanatica being the stand out tracks and those not mentioned still being fine pieces of work.

*Forget for the moment that there's a new album out that knocks everything Arena have done back a place in my personal rankings :)


I really don't understand the overall aversion against Pepper's Ghost.  :-\

To me it's a quality album with a great balance.
Cause of Injury: Lack of Adhesive Ducks.


As I said, our opinions can be very subjective and it would be boring if we all liked the same things in life and all had the same opinions. It would be like everybody supporting the same football team! And if my daughter didn't like modern music, I couldn't go bear bating her (the sure fire one to provoke a reaction is to say that JLS are all gay!  ;D  ;D )

There's a mate of mine who is a music nut like me. We agree on most things, but have vastly differing opinions on others. So whilst we have a shared love of bands like Pink Floyd and other classic bands, I love Yes and he detests them with a vengeance. I return the favour for him on his love of Oasis, which I simply do not understand! ;)

Likewise I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people who will not like the music that I do, but that's cool, I know that that is going to be the case.

I'm glad that people do like Pepper's Ghost and rate it highly. But it's still not one for me.

Derek Cook


I'l return with a more lengthy review, but Pepper never gripped me the way Visitor and Contagion did. The only song I was really stuck-on and could keep returning to was Lara Moon, and somewhat with Opera Fanatica. Nothing like the other two albums that I was hooked to for a while  :)

Same thing with Immortal? actually: Some nice songs, but not the same fascination  :-\

Of course, when one returns to a catalogue after years, as I am doing now, things can be very different, like my eyes (not Lara's) are opening to the amazing world of Lion's Cage, music and lyrics .....  8)

Clive's lyrics really confound me, but in a good way, in a way that: I have to bloody well get'm  ;)

So you've come of age
And so you want to meet God
Sure you can
He's right here next to me


Quote from: Nicky007 on Sat, 2011-12-03, 13:25:32
The only song I was really stuck-on and could keep returning to was Lara Moon


I second that; that is the stand out track for me. :)

Derek Cook


The only song that I don't really like is Bedlam Fayre.
The other songs are highly rated in madtropolis.
Lyrically it's great overall, but one of the best tracks is Tantalus.
Epically it's Opera Fanatica, that by the way also receives a grammy for being gifted with one of the best track titles I've seen.  :) *horns*

The whole album is diverse, energetic, a bit pig-headed, a league of its own.

Cause of Injury: Lack of Adhesive Ducks.


OK, I'll mess this up even more. :)  I think Pepper's Ghost is arguably the best Arena album tied with The Visitor.  The only song on the album I find at all lacking is Purgatory Road (which most seem to like a lot).  It's not a bad song, but I find the lyrics a little trite.  Tantalus, I find amazing, and Opera Fanatica isn't far behind.  I think John's guitar on this album is amazing, and I commend the band for giving him room to breath.  I can only hope that the people saying the new album is superior are right!
"What is that sound?  It's confusing, and boy is it loud!"


Quote from: Manatee on Sun, 2011-12-04, 11:00:31
  I can only hope that the people saying the new album is superior are right!

You'll be pleased to hear that we are very, very right :)


Pepper's Ghost is one of my favourites too but then they are all favourites  :P ::)