They’ve been touted as the likely contenders to fill the void left by Powderfinger and possibly Silverchair. They started in the “underground,” cracked the mainstream and went experimental on the subsequent follow-up. Their home state has been dubbed as having, “something in the water” due to the large number of quality artists coming from the region. And so it is that in 2011, Eskimo Joe is left to set up their own label and release their fifth studio album, Ghosts of the Past independently.
This LP has been christened the “dirty 30s” record by the band because singer/bassist and front man Kav Temperley has said you can’t keep singing about teen angst and bad relationships when you’re in a happy one with a new wife and bub. The best source of inspiration these days it seems is not what’s currently going on but the demons that dot the past. The adult themes found here include: feelings of fear, nostalgia, being trapped and haunted by personal history, needing control and of course, relationships and all their inherent complexities. The latter touches on self-destructive and even violent ones but these are all achieved form having lived vicariously and voyeuristically through the jagged life experiences of others.
Eskimo Joe originally set out to make a rock album with piano, guitar, bass and drums just like the Pixies did so wonderfully on their masterpiece, Doolittle. But the West Australians also wanted to make a uniform-sounding LP and this is perhaps one of the major pitfalls of this release. In seeking cohesion and attempting to build an atmosphere where we know the exact band and album we’re listening to, they’ve also created something repetitious and a tad staid, at times riffing on themselves and at other moments lifting one too many musical ideas from the likes of U2 and INXS (particularly when they’d already referenced the latter on their break-through, Black Fingernails, Red Wine).
The eleven tracks offered here are certainly less polished and far grittier than the band’s previous works, like when Temperley and Co. confront a nemesis on the eerietitle track. Then there’s the music in “Echo” where we get the force of Black Fingernails… coupled with Inshalla-era keys and sentiments like feeling overwhelmed and moments repeating themselves before your very eyes.
On “Gave It All Away” Temperley sits and shakes his head at a friend who is making the same mistakes he made in his twenties. “Just Don’t Feel” meanwhile, sees him yearn for the past with a Lior-like ballad complete with strings and ruminating about how things: “Just don’t feel like it used to”.
The nostalgia card is also played up big on single, “When We Were Kids”. It is a simple tale of youthful pleasures like getting stoned and trying to get off with a girl, something that lends itself rather well as a warmer to the other catchy, radio-friendly hit, “Love Is A Drug”. The same unfortunately cannot be said about “Drowning In The Fear,” an energetic but altogether forgettable song that is like most of the album’s second half.
Ghosts of the Past uses lots of vivid, supernatural imagery- ghosts, echoes, skies on fire and demons in various forms all while evoking a vague, almost spiritual atmosphere. It was refined over a series of jams in the beer garden of the Norfolk Hotel in Fremantle and while borne from humble beginnings, is a slow-burning affair of heavy and straight down the line pop-rock songs. In short, it shows that Eskimo Joe, for better or worse, has grown up and come out the other side a little older, somewhat wiser and prepared to face their past head-on.
Originally published on 9 September 2011 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/eskimo-joe-ghosts-past-cd-review
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