My, Cherry Ghost, how you’ve changed. Last time we saw you, you were splashing about in that indie paddling pool and we could hardly tell you apart from your other friends. But look at you – all grown up.
Yes, Bolton’s Cherry Ghost have come a long way since their 2007 debut Thirst For Romance. That was a fine album, with a couple of stone cold classics in People Help The People and Mathematics), but ultimately not memorable enough to separate them from the rest of the many, many similarly themed bands out there.
Three years on, lead singer Simon Aldred has completely ‘re-branded’ his band. There’s a huge, brooding, almost cinematic presence throughout the 13 tracks here – bringing to mind names such as Richard Hawley, Nick Cave and Tindersticks. Yet their commercial edge is still there too: witness the soaring single Kissing Strangers and opening We Sleep On Stones. This way, my friends, Mercury nominations lie.
The staggering leap forward is exemplified by The Night They Buried Sadie Clay, a complex story-song that takes in sea shanties, murder ballads, Mariachi melodies and even a touch of Chopin. There are nods to fellow North-Westeners Doves and early Elbow, especially on A Month Of Mondays and the brooding Barberini Square, but given an edge by Aldred’s memorable lyrics – such as “in a certain light, your face could launch a bareknuckle fight” on the latter.
The aforementioned Kissing Strangers is an undoubted highlight, a lovely slice of symphonic pop that should, by all rights, be blasting from every shop doorway this summer. Aldred also has the happy knack of marrying some deceptively catchy melodies to the darkest of lyrical subject matters – the bouncy Only A Mother Could tackles domestic violence, while it takes a couple of listens to realise that We Sleep On Stones is actually about mass graveyards. Even the seemingly romantic Kissing Strangers features a sinister ‘well dressed weekend brute’ as its protagonist.
There really isn’t a bad track here, from the mournful acoustic ballad of My God Betrays to the pounding Doves-like Black Fang, which could easily sound as at home in the stadiums and arenas of the country as it would do in a tiny sweaty venue.
It comes to an end rather beautifully with Diamond In The Grind, a startlingly lush number featuring some swirling strings that build up and up to a frenetic conclusion, until the gorgeously jaded instrumental Strays At The Ice Pond brings the album to a heart-stoppingly beautiful conclusion.
The leap in quality is astounding – although there was nothing much wrong with Thirst For Romance, the change in direction has done Cherry Ghost a power of good. In a year already crowded with outstanding album releases, Cherry Ghost could well have released one of the best of the year.