Review : Jukebox the Ghost - Safe Travels
PopmattersWhere do you go after you make an album that might be the clearest possible distillation of your band’s artistic mission statement? In 2010, Jukebox the Ghost released the near-sublime Everything Under the Sun, an insanely fun (no period needed) record that had co-frontmen Ben Thornewill (vocals, piano) and Tommy Siegel (vocals, guitar) firing on all cylinders. Their debut, Let Live and Let Ghosts, made it clear they were a good band capable of writing good songs; Everything Under the Sun made the case that Jukebox was a great band capable of writing great songs.
But rather than sit on their laurels, Thornewill, Siegel, and drummer Jesse Kristin have moved irrevocably forward on Safe Travels, their latest album, with mixed success. In many ways the songs here represent a logical progression to their discography: their melodies and song structures continue to become more sophisticated (and, sometimes, prone to inaccessibility), and the production work is more pristine and lush than ever. The result is that much of what’s here feels simultaneously a bit more bloated and a bit more slight than the band’s previous output.
Case in point: the duo of “Devils on Our Side” and “All for Love”, two tracks that are really more like one song in two acts. “Devils” is the kind of song Jukebox the Ghost would have knocked out of the park in the past: just the honey-voiced Thornewill singing gorgeously with sparse piano accompaniment. Somehow, though, this feels more like a ground-rule double than a home run, nice and pretty but not life-changing, in the vein of an inoffensive British group like Keane or Aqualung. The skeleton is still there, but the muscle, so to speak, has been pulled away.
And that’s a problem that’s sadly endemic to Safe Travels, albeit in an understated way. Everything sounds a just little too generic, or a little too uninspired, as if the band is constantly on the precipice of something really spectacular. For most of the album they’re content to filter their trademark buoyancy through a soggy early ‘00s indie sound, complete with synth strings and anthemic Coldplay-style background vocals. Thornewill’s piano is stuck in lockstep precision on songs like “Adulthood”, when you wish he’d let it play a little more fast and loose. The band regains its mojo in a big way over the last quarter of the album—Siegel’s unexpected acoustic gem “Man in the Moon”, the vintage Folds-ian stomp of “Everybody Knows”, and the tongue-in-cheek gospel of “The Spiritual” are all excellent tracks—but by the time you get there, it may be too late....full text
AvclubItinerant art-pop trio Jukebox The Ghost—which has been based in D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York—is one of those bands so full of ideas and hooks that at times they come off as a little too eager to impress. The band’s two songwriters are pianist Ben Thornewill and guitarist Tommy Siegel, who sound equally inspired by Ben Folds, Fountains Of Wayne and Queen. On the first two Jukebox The Ghost albums, this resulted in songs loaded with complex harmonies and dense lyrics, often at the expense of clarity. But just when Thornewill, Siegel and drummer Jesse Kristin seem too mired in mini-suites, they come across with a song as perfect as “Somebody,” the fiendishly catchy track that opens the band’s third album Safe Travels. From its faintly world beat rhythms to its sticky chorus and multiple soaring bridges, “Somebody” is the kind of feel-good single that deserves to dominate the radio all summer. It justifies all of Jukebox The Ghost’s past overcranked diddling.
On the whole, Safe Travels is a more direct album than what the band has done before. The ’70s-style disco strings of “At Last,” the childlike sing-song and wiggly synth break of “Say When,” and the urgently anthemic overtures of “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind” are all meant to move people, either by cheering them up or by sympathizing with their troubles. Much of the music on Safe Travels is peppy and bright, but the subject matter of songs like “Dead,” “Adulthood” and “Ghosts In Empty Houses” is fairly serious, dealing with losses big and small. While Safe Travels still gets overly busy and bombastic at times, and while Thornewill’s and Siegel’s songwriting can still come across as overbearing, the potential is always there: Not just for another unbeatable winner like “Somebody,” but for little beams of light to come breaking through the clouds, illuminating the clutter....full text
ConsequenceofsoundGrief and hopelessness are viruses, slowly destroying our spiritual immune system in preparation for our grand shuffle off this mortal coil. Their sudden onset can be too much to handle, leading to illnesses like cynicism and despair. In the midst of a devastating viral outbreak (represented as breakups and the death of a parent and grandparent), Philadelphia power-pop trio Jukebox the Ghost recorded their third album, Safe Travels. With these 13 tracks, the lads fought against the onslaught of life, death, and maturity with the greatest medicine of all: unceasing optimism.
On Safe Travels, even the band’s purely fluff cuts are much stronger. Album opener “Somebody” is like a more even-keeled leftover from Everything Under the Sun, with the infectiousness centered around a simple piano and pulsating guitar, the perfect complements to the song’s simple message of companionship. “Oh, Emily” sees them hone their sound further, taking a familiar concept (apologizing to a girl whose heart you’ve smashed) and adding layers of regret under the chugging instrumentation and vocalist/guitarist Tommy Siegel’s aw-shucks performance. Where once there was slight hokiness, the shouting harmonies and personal lyrics (“I’m lost at love with everyone, and now’s as good as any place to start”) are flawed and organic.
On the surface, “Man on the Moon” is their most quaint and adorable track to date, with Siegel’s boyish croon reaching maximum cheek pinch-ability. Still, the song works because of just how cute it becomes. It’s just after the knockout punch of hazy instrumentation and comparing yourself to the man on the moon that the feeling of isolation sneaks in. Once it’s inside, though, it’s not a destructive force. Instead, that pain and incompleteness are life-affirming, keeping life as the focus as you ponder your insubstantial existence in the great black void....full text
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