When Siobhan Donaghy left what was to become the ‘most successful British girl group’ (surely only a tag previously owned by Bananarama?) it seemed for most like career suicide. Solo Siobhan was going to be an uphill struggle. Hey! She might even go into Overload?….Oh dear. But after one lukewarm debut and a whole lot of waiting comes Ghosts.
Things immediately seem promising as opener Don’t Give Up straddles that awkward cleft between Kate Bush‘s swirling headspin and Bjork‘s arty-club angles. Building on a bedrock of tasteful electronica, half-spoken vocals of murmur dark threats of “remote controlling this total ache” before giving way to an angelic choir-us (sic) of how to “heal and hide”. The flipsides of icy stabbing verses and hot water bottle chorus of Don’t Give Up add up to a spooked-out magical soother of a song. So far, so much better than “the red dress”.
Beyond the edgy settings these are songs you’d expect from a 22 year-old, full of emotional bruises, brush-offs and better days. This is the extension of what was promised with Sugarbabes‘ Overload with all its off-kilter originality. Occasionally quality control does slip but on the whole this is a accomplished step into solo artist territory as an accessible album full of smart sounds and personality.
What lies inbetween is an odd filling. The main culprit is There’s A Place which is a bit of a tuneless ‘dragger’ that meanders around an acoustic shuffle before being bludgeoned with strings to add a bit of weight, but comes over as a bit wet. Unfortunately the majority of the second half of the album falls into similar neat, but derivative territory that no matter how interesting the arrangements can’t cover the lack of tune. While there was never going to be any radical re-tooling this is quality disco-pop with an edge. Themes of lost love (So You Say), independence and surviving are nothing new but are given some lush soundscapes to play out their eternal games.
When it works the songs twinkle from the mire like the cooing hooks of the speedy, Oriental-sounding refrain in Sometimes it lifts the downbeat Kylie-ish disco-pop feel into a naggingly addictive tune. 12 Bar Acid Blues is an equally ballsy acoustic track with a backbeat and electro squelches sounding like early Nelly Furtado, Natalie Imbruglia with its wry tales of messed-up schemes of traveling.
The closing trio of tracks are something of a marvel from the oblique oddity of tracks like Medevac (vague references to medication and being ‘strung out’) with its fractured chords, banks of synths and cooing spookfest hint at where Siobhan’s head is at. Halcyon Days could be the twin sister to Massive Attack‘s Teardrop. While title track Ghosts could be the companion piece to Don’t Give Up in it’s psychedelic reeling rhythms, random words and backwards production trickery and general Kate Bush homage.
Praise should be given for avoiding the usual glamourpuss drivel-by-numbers to serve up something a little more challenging, but it can’t seemingly be sustained over the course of a whole album. Now both she and Mutya are free of the shadow of the ailing Sugarbabes perhaps their solo parts will be greater than the sum? For now though it’s time to get on with being Siobhan Doherty, who with an album that hints at greatness-to-come is no bad thing.