Music Review: THE GHOST OF OHIO, Andy Black (Island Records)

AndyBlack-GhostOfOhioAndy Biersack/Black is, in my humble opinion, one of the best young vocalists in rock. In his “day job” as frontman of Black Veil Brides, we’ve heard his vocals and songwriting skills improve in leaps and bounds since they formed in 2006.

From the run-of-the-mill screamo of their debut album, We Stitch These Wounds (which was rather blandly stereotypical), to the way-more-glam Set the World On Fire (2011), to the monster hits of Wretched and Divine (2013) and Black Veil Brides IV (2014), he and his bandmates kept knocking it out of the park and getting better and better. Then, in 2016, he released his superb debut album, The Shadow Side: far more pop-oriented than BVB’s output, it is polished and catchy as hell. BVB’s fifth album, Vale (2018), built on everything that had come before and was another fantastic rock album. The pattern had been set: continued growth, and restrained experimentation, and more sophisticated song-writing.

The Ghost of Ohio contains these things, too, but it just doesn’t feel quite as immediately good. The album offers a blend of pop stylings new and old — from the more EDM-influenced distortions and manipulation (“Fire in My Mind”) to Springsteen-esque instrumentation on a couple of songs. It’s an interesting mix, and does make the album a cool, diverse listen. Some might find it a bit jumbled, though: sometimes, it feels like the only thing tying it together are Black’s distinctive voice.

In “Introduction: Resurrection”, Black plays things quite safe, offering a pretty straightforward song that fans of Black Veil Brides will find familiar and immediately recognizable — complete with “portentous” spoken-word sermon-esque pronouncements. Quasi-biblical imagery and all. It’s a decent song, but quite at odds with an album that has, overall, rather bouncy melodies (as in “The Wind & Spark”, for example).

The first three songs released from the album are probably the best. “The Promise” is more in keeping with his solo album: polished, slick pop-rock. It also has some piano (and even some saxophone) that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bruce Springsteen record, which was an interesting addition — the same can be said for “The Wind & Spark”, which also has some twangy Springsteen-esque guitar moments coupled with piano. The abrupt ending was a bit jarring.

First single “Westwood Road” is another solid song and will definitely appeal to fans of The Shadow Side. Group harmonies, various vocal effects and meter and tone changes keep it interesting. A bit slower than I usually like, but a good song, a bit of an ear-worm. The video, below, is very busy — as if, when offered a list of special effects from which to choose from, he responded, “Yes to all.”

The title track is probably the best composed and performed song — I enjoyed the mix of styles (musical and vocal) that are in there, and the variation in pacing worked perfectly. It includes pretty much every element that a fan would expect from an Andy Black song (including a sampled vocal from somewhere else).

Black’s vocals are pretty solid throughout, but there were definitely a couple of moments when he sounded slightly off, maybe strained or tired (for example, on “Fire in My Mind”) — strange for an otherwise highly polished and carefully produced album. Nitpicking, I know, but it was noticeable. Maybe it was an attempt to provide a more natural, off-the-cuff and unpolished feel to the songs.

There were a couple of things that didn’t work for me on the album. Listening to it in the background, every time “Heroes We Were” starts, I’m put in mind of a pre-YouTube video ad: the damned xylophone is the exact tone of so many of those annoying ads that I can’t seem to escape. A shame, because the rest of the song is pretty good. “Heaven” is possibly the weakest song on the album: a rather bland, unfortunately forgettable ballad.

Another couple of stand-outs are “Feast or Famine” and “The Martyr” — just wanted to get that in there. Reminds me of someone else, but I’ve been wracking my brain and can’t identify who. Each of these could be a future single.

Overall, this is a pretty good album. Not as immediately great as Black’s debut solo album. I think he’s definitely trying some new things, playing around with styles and structures that he likes but that wouldn’t fit in with Black Veil Brides — and, if that’s not what a solo album is for, then I don’t know what is. Most of the songs have great parts (plenty of great melodies, hooks, instrumentation, or whatever), but they often have something that doesn’t quite work for me — often the endings, which sometimes felt like the songs just died.

I’m being quite critical, I know, but don’t get me wrong — I will happily listen to the album on repeat. While many of the songs are very good, not enough of them made me sit up and take notice — to stop what I was doing and just listen. It also fits nicely on a playlist with the first solo effort and BVB albums. I think I just prefer The Shadow Side more.

Track Listing:

  1. Introduction: Resurrection
  2. The Promise
  3. Westwood Road
  4. Know One
  5. Soul Like Me
  6. The Wind & Spark
  7. Ghost of Ohio
  8. Heroes We Are
  9. Feast or Famine
  10. Heaven
  11. The Martyr
  12. Fire In My Mind

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