Pete Astor’s history with The Loft and The Weather Prophets set an early high water mark that not only defined an entire musical movement, but also has proven hard to match with his subsequent solo work. One For The Ghost is perhaps the closest that Astor has come to measuring up to the quality of his youthful output. Much of this is down to the fact that this album is almost certainly his most consistent solo work to date, but also that he seems to have found a new lease of life whilst considering some of the bleaker aspects of existence.
Kicking off with Walker, a jangling existential geographic loner’s ballad, it finds a blurred meeting point between the order of maps and just getting lost in the London landscape on a night-time stroll. The love tale of Water Tower follows and revels in playing with language, “meet me at the end of the line” might have connotations of rail travel (given the nature of the album’s opening track) but when followed up with the line “meet me in the dying of the light”, there’s also a hint of finality here too. Still, when you’re describing a water tower as a concrete flower, there’s a fair amount of romanticism at play here too.
One For The Ghost is all about finality as it faces death head on, with a dry quip. Compiling a host of famous last words (Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway get a mention apiece), Astor raises a glass to the departed. This is no downbeat study of death, but rather an upbeat celebration of life and a few drinks are most certainly in order. This is not to say that Astor tackles the subject in a glib fashion, the final track on the album, Dead Fred is a phenomenally affecting song about the end of a life, and yet there’s a beauty and grace to the use of language and imagery that make the inevitable seem not quite so awful.
The chugging country attack of Golden Boy rattles along the tracks like a sarcastic, runaway train. It’s not just a straight up country song however, in the unhinged guitar solos the subtle, latter-day Velvet Underground influences that populate much of the album suddenly become much sharper, and the chaos that can be found in Sister Ray (although, admittedly it’s not quite as chaotic as Sister Ray) appears to be a reference point.
There’s a fair bit of referencing to musical history as throughout the album. There’s the obviously Byrds jangle, a smidgen of early R.E.M., and the spectre of Lou Reed and pals, but there are also hints of Stealers Wheel and lyrical references to John Lennon (Magician And Assistant), and then there’s the strong folk inflections throughout and at one point, John Sullivan’s masterwork, Only Fools And Horses drifts into view.
Whilst there are a host of influences and references at work, Astor’s delivery and way with a lyric mean that he’s bending those influences to his will. One For The Ghost finds Astor in fine form and it’s good to see he’s still capable of hitting the heights he once did back with The Weather Prophets. Raise a glass in his general direction, and have one for the ghost whilst you’re at it.