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.