It would have been tempting for Alex Starling to continue ploughing the same furrow that he’d done while a member of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, but his new project combines elements of both old and new. Electro-pop may not be as big a deal as it used to be, but there are still some artists and bands who are doing it rather well, and The Ghosts [Twitter/Facebook] happen to be one of them. Following a shock turn of events at Pukkelpop 2010, which led to OELSP frontman Charles Haddon taking his own life, no-one would have begrudged Starling for taking an extended break, but, to his credit, didn’t take too much time out from making music; and, before the end of that year, Starling had been introduced to drummer Ian Palmer via a mutual friend who was none other than The Charlatans man John Brookes.
Debut album The End came together in two months and was recorded in a fortnight. Once again, Starling didn’t hang around, and this sort of work ethic is a testament to their songwriting skills. Behind their melodic approach and powerful songs, though, it’s difficult not to reach the conclusion that, intentionally or otherwise, some of the lyrics on the album have been informed by what has come before. Opener Ghosts is uptempo but is offset by dark lyrics: ‘Now there’s only darkness, and loneliness, and waiting for the ghosts, ghosts that come into your life and go.’
Elsewhere, the punchy Enough Time documents a crumbling romantic relationship, and a friendship hits the rocks on In An Emergency. The album, on the whole, doesn’t make for the most cheerful of listens, but to expect an album full of sunshine and roses after everything that’s happened over the previous two years would have been foolish. It’s not overly heavy going, though, as the melancholic tone of the lyrics is balanced by the uplifting hooks that are present all over the record, most notably on impressive songs like Underrated (bonus points for the chorus) and Forgetting What We Know, the latter of which has a Violator-era Depeche Mode feel.
Some other reference points crop up at other times on the album: Everything Will Do features a riff that successfully out-Radioheads Radiohead, while Scared sounds like a version of Only Ones Who Know by Arctic Monkeys in which romanticised lyrics are swapped out for something altogether more personal, with rolling drums and a palpable sense of emotion running throughout.
The album closes with the acoustic Unless, a song which comes as a surprise after all that’s gone before, but The End manages to be diverse enough to hint at plenty of other ideas that could be explored on The Ghosts’s second album. While an album of straight-ahead electro-pop would have been just fine, the idea of ‘more of the same’ didn’t sit so well with Starling, and so he and Palmer decided to do things differently this time around, and the result is an album that is immediate, but holds up very well after repeated listening. Despite all the darkness explored on The End, this band’s future looks bright.
The End is out now via Pocket Records.
Enough Time video: