I've seen Jukebox the Ghost play live twice. Once was at a community center in Wilton, Connecticut, and the other was here at Geneseo’s 2013 Spring Fest. Both of these venues were so intimate that I got a chance to talk to the members after both shows. And each time, I was left with the impression that they’re all pretty weird. The band’s fourth full-length album Jukebox the Ghost, however, is notably normal. Released on Tuesday Oct. 21, the LP is the embodiment of sleek indie pop. Self-titled albums often represent either a band’s total reinvention or a return to its roots, but this one is really neither. It’s the same Jukebox, —just shinier.
The album opens with “Sound of a Broken Heart,” an upbeat breakup song. Vocalist and pianist Ben Thornewill is as happy-go-lucky as can be, and the song is interspersed with lighthearted “whoa-oh-ohs.” This track flows into “Made For Ending,” which juxtaposes downer lyrics with uplifting riffs, only this time the lyrics are delivered by saccharine-voiced singer and guitarist Tommy Siegel.
On past Jukebox albums, Siegel and Thornewill have generally split vocal duties evenly, although Thornewill is clearly the superior singer. He does, however, sing slightly more on this new release. Even drummer Jesse Kristin gets a chance to sing, making his lukewarm vocal debut on the otherwise lively “Hollywood,” featuring some of Thornewill’s most melodic growls yet.
With a catchy chorus and jazzy vibes, “Girl” is a standout.Thornewill hits an impressive high note here, reminding that he’s––as usual––the star of the show. He often channels Billy Joel with his classic style, but there are also moments in which his odd vocal flourishes are more madman than “Piano Man.” This happens more on “Girl” than anywhere else on the album, which I would argue is not nearly weird enough.
Lead single “The Great Unknown” is absolutely button-down. It has a gospel-inspired sound, reminiscent of Safe Travels’ “The Spiritual” and echoed on the vibrato-heavy “Undeniable You” later in the album. It’s perhaps a bit too inspirational in content, with cheesier-than-normal lyrics: “There’s something waiting for you! The time is now!” Still, for what it’s worth, it’s a fun song. This is a fun album.
Of course, the stripped-down coser “Show Me Where it Hurts” isn’t fun, but it is pretty. Some of the lyrics are clunky, but the piano is pure, the strings are full and Siegel’s sweet vocals fit the sad tone. This stands in stark contrast to his annoyingly overproduced failure of a disco pop song “The One” where he sounds like he’s parodying himself.
Overall, Jukebox the Ghost is high on pop-gloss and low on quirkiness. It’s expansive and uplifting, but also tight and sleek.