Ghosts review by Big Wreck

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  • Released: Jul 15, 2014
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 5
  • Overall Impression: 6
  • Reviewer's score: 6 Neat
  • Users' score: 8.7 (13 votes)
Big Wreck: Ghosts

Sound — 7
What better place to start a band than within one of the best music schools in the world? Big Wreck was formed by students of Boston's Berklee College of Music in 1993, and after working the unsigned grind for a few years, they would relocate to Toronto, Canada, sign with Atlantic Records, and release their debut album, "In Loving Memory Of…" in 1997. While their debut album reached modest success, as well as lead to their debut national tour as openers for prog-metal titans Dream Theater, their sophomore album, "The Pleasure and the Greed," would fail to keep the momentum going, and Big Wreck would break up a year after its release. Their frontman, Ian Thornley, would continue making music with his solo band, Thornley, and sign with (brace yourself) Chad Kroeger of Nickelback's label, 604 Records. Thornley would release two albums in the span of five years, but in 2010, Ian and former Big Wreck guitarist Brian Doherty would reconnect, and in 2011, Doherty would play alongside Thornley again, which resulted in Thornley's solo band transforming back into Big Wreck. They would release their third album, "Albatross," a year later, which was met with success and served as a proper "welcome back" statement for Big Wreck, and now, they've released their fourth album, "Ghosts."

Though "Albatross" was originally written as a Thornley album, it did sound a lot like a Big Wreck composition, which was a good way to pick up where the band had last left off - with "Ghosts," Thornley and Doherty show themselves trying out new things to usher in a new chapter for Big Wreck. Some of those new things are subtle changes and additions to Big Wreck's conventional rock formula - such as the usage of sitar in "Friends," the dominance of piano in "My Life," or the extra-mile commitment to a country-inspired sound in "Hey Mama" courtesy of an added banjo- but the real substantial changes display Big Wreck channeling new genre influences. The slow-burning intro song "A Place to Call Home" contains heavily-distorted, Black-Sabbath-like guitar riffage, giving the track a stoner-rock vibe; and the title track, "Ghosts," takes on a lighter, jazz-rock-influenced sound with lead guitar playing that emulates the bluesy and soulful style of Carlos Santana. This is further established in the penultimate song "War Baby," which is even more lounge-jazzy than "Ghosts," and ends up making the lead guitar shine even brighter; and though Thornley's voice still sounds like an off-brand Chris Cornell throughout most of the album (for better or for worse), he sings with a straightforward and easygoing vocal style to complement the mellow lounge sound of the song. 

Big Wreck don't make "Ghosts" all about experimentation and style-changeups, though, and for those that may be thrown off by the curveball intro song, the band follows it up with "I Digress," which acts as a chaser of Big Wreck's tried-and-true rock sound, and also boasts the best guitar solo on the album. "Diamonds" also provides an appeal to fundamental Big Wreck material, which contains the sonic motif of an intertwined acoustic/electric guitar intro with a tinge of flanger on it that you can also find in earlier Big Wreck tunes. However, the "traditional-style" Big Wreck songs start to wane in the latter half of the album: with "Break" containing a boilerplate rock-ballad topline, and songs like "Still Here" and "Off and Running" going on longer than they need to - but really, "going on longer than it needs to" is an overarching characteristic of the album - with only four tracks running under five minutes long - so the journey from front to back may prove to be quite trying for some.

Lyrics — 5
Ian Thornley may have the Pepsi alternative to Chris Cornell's Coca-Cola voice, but his lyrical prowess unfortunately does not match as well. Lyrics throughout "Ghosts" are sculpted with Hallmark-esque rhyme schemes and vocabulary, and while songs like "Hey Mama" and "Diamonds" contain the most emotion-laced lyrics, they still lack an element of personal distinction to really drive the sentimental element home. You can find a couple examples where Thornley hits a good one, like "and if my scars were tattoos/I could hide them in plain sight" in "Ghosts," or the adequate link from "stoke the fire, fan the flame/squeeze the clouds until it rains" in the chorus of "A Place to Call Home" to "I'm squeezing what I can't replace/I fiddled with the fire 'til I got burned" in "Come What May," but in general, the lyrics on the album are meek, and you'll do just fine not looking too much into them and focusing more on the music.

Overall Impression — 6
Whether or not Big Wreck fans will welcome the branching out of music style in "Ghosts" with open arms, it was smart of Big Wreck to compose different-sounding songs this time around to save the album from being cursed with "more of the same." However, it doesn't seem like a soulless and calculated effort to change things up, and it doesn't seem like aimless wandering towards new sounds. "Ghosts" comes off like natural growth for Big Wreck; having sharpened their traditional sound to a comfortable degree, and now they're figuring out what more they can bring to the table as a band. This growth may not be picture-perfect, but "Ghosts" fulfills its role of turning the page for Big Wreck and displaying enough intrigue in sound to justify its own existence and a follow-up album in the future that will hopefully show even more growth.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thanks for the review.... over all, a positive look at the album! Upfront, I'm a ridiculous fanboy for the band so take what I say with a grain of salt.... Just some reviewer pointers: The Cornell comments are tired "boilerplate" reference (look at ANY Big Wreck review - it's like mentioning that a tiger has stripes).... a voice is a voice.... please give that observation up, it's lazy when it's anything beyond a simple point of reference. Do some research on the instrumentation. There is no sitar on Friends. Just masterfully played guitars and Deusenberg lap steel. No banjo on Hey Mama. Dobro and mandolin. Hey Mama "country inspired" - have you ever heard a Zep album? Carlos Santana? Albert King, for sure. Stevie Ray Vaughn, definitely. Carlos…. um no. Perhaps the difference between the sounds of these greats eludes you… again a bit of research would help. As far as songs going on longer, if you don't dig or understand them the length is a problem, if you do then the length is a delight! Big Wreck fans have been screaming for stretched out musical excursions - demand delivered! To dismiss Ian's vocals by saying "he sings with a straightforward and easygoing vocal style" when throughout the CD there are forays into chorus harmonies that rival the Beach Boys and Queen is to be inattentive or unaware! Even to mention them in dislike would mean that you noticed. That sweetness and contrast is a MAJOR part of where the music has expanded. Again to the utter delight of BW fans. Lyrically you've missed the boat ENTIRELY! You even misquote the scars lyric! You may not identify with the lyric content, but to call them inferior to Cornell (again is he the lyric high water mark - I find his stuff generic/juvenile in Soundgarden but mature and personal on his solo stuff - I am actually a fan) or "Hallmark-esque" is to misunderstand the content altogether. It's blindness on your part. Just say, that "you don't get" what's being written about instead of displaying your ignorance. Again, thank for taking the time to review the music. Hope these pointers will help.
    You nailed it with Albert and Stevie Ray. The solo in Ghosts is totally SRV (and Albert King by extension), just listen to the bending, vibrato and phrasing. Didn't hear a lick of Santana in there (pardon the pun).
    Dark Canuck
    You should have done the review. After reading UG's "Albtross" review and this one, I've come to the conclusion that nobody at UG likes or even really gives Big Wreck the time of day. I am also a fan. I dig pretty much every song Big Wreck has written. Solid musicianship and writing. This reviewer missed the mark, misquoted and shrugged off the some of the album's strengths.
    Much agreed. I don't know what it is but this site just doesn't seem to enjoy unique, inspired, rock music. Particularly from Big Wreck & Ian Thornley. All I ever hear is, "What about dat metal dough?"
    I looked up the band's lyrics after this review, and not only does it seem like you misquote them, but I also have come to disagree with you entirely about them being 'meek'. I dont understand your review, what specifically were you looking for? Complicated, unrhyming lines where its up to everyone to decide what the heck the singer was 'on' when writing the song, without being able to pull any meaning? Thank you for making me look the band up, I am a new fan. No longer a fan of this site, however.
    UG's staff reviews have always been bad. To be fair, they're better than Pitchfork though (not that is saying much).
    Big Wreck and Thornley are awesome! Check out the first Thornley album, a whole lotta awesome rock on there. Their second album sounds more "Big Wreck-ish" but is still worth checking out.
    One of the worst reviews I've ever read. Big Wreck are great musicians that really bring what I feel is refreshing and interesting music. But I guess since it isn't metal UG doesn't really give a shit.
    I didn't even know these guys toured with Dream Theater. One of the best 90s Canadian alt-rock bands this side of pre-Gravity Our Lady Peace :O Both of the songs were great. Loved the solo in the first one, and the second one was just a great fun rock song.
    Like Dark Canuck said. great album. shit review. it seems lately that all this site cares about is the pile of shit genre now known as Djent. Anyone that doesn't like this album obviously didn't give it a chance!
    Djent is dying out. Lots of prog fans (myself included) have loathed Djent for years and supported bands like this. I'm probably a new fan of Big Wreck.
    Actually no. BW's music just seems to touch it's fans deeply and engender's rabid enthusiasm. It's intelligent, diverse, complex and emotional. Some people really get it and other's don't. It's worth it to examine if you don't get it... and that's cool. Just get to know why, beyond "that sucks". To each his own. PS In today's music climate, if you like a band you better support them or they WILL go away... I want more music out of Big Wreck so I try to assure their survival. They're worth my effort in my opinion.
    Dark Canuck
    They're one of those bands that I've come to appreciate something about every song they've written. Either you get it and appreciate this band or you don't. I'm a bit surprised that 'Come What May' was chosen for the US single. Although accessible and catchy, it's one of the weaker tracks on the album for me. 'Hey Mama' is one of the best songs I've heard in a long time, of any genre or format. Many songs on 'Ghosts' are a slow burn and deep, and I like it.
    Big Wreck's first two albums were amazing. They were so diverse and yet beautifully written. Albtross was a little disappointing, but I might check this album out.
    Holy shit. I was just listening to it and thought, "This is more Sting/The Police than Cornell. Then I checked out the video, and I not only hear it now, but that's an image homage if I've ever seen one, as well. Boilerplate or not, a spade is a spade. That said, I really dig it. I remember them from the late 90's thinking they had a Zeppelin sound. I really dig this and will check out the whole album.
    It really seems like all of these comments were written by people who work for the band.
    Overall, this review is bang on. I love this band and have been a fan since their first cd. That said, anything Thornley releases, even if was a cd filled with him farting, would still deserve a minimum 5 rating. However, Ghosts just isn't there overall. Albatross was released and I would listen to it over and over and over. I still cannot get through this entire cd yet. Simply said, for Big Wreck, it's lacking. Compared to other bands, it's great but compared to Big Wreck, it's not their best effort.