There’s an ease to The Ghost That Was, a sort of comfortable tonal fluidity that suggests the five dudes in Shallow Palace — among them drummer and regular Free Times contributor Michael Spawn — simply set up their gear, hit record and ripped through the record’s nine tunes in just a few takes. The tones stay static. So, too, does the mix: Guitars are almost always at the forefront; organs and pianos swell in the quieter passages; voices, sometimes harmonizing, float just above the din. It’s somewhat akin to listening to a soundboard recording of a live performance — which, given the band’s combustible energy, works in Ghost’s favor.
But while the album presents an interesting sonic continuity, its song selection suggests split personalities. Shallow Palace has always been a hydra-headed outfit, with multiple songwriting voices that cover a melange of styles and subgenres. Diversity marked the band’s first full-length, The Vig, and it marks Ghost, too: “Point of You” and “No Lip” are sweltering, swaggering Southern rockers; “Swindler” and “One of Us” are dramatic and operatic piano-driven classic rock cuts; “Zombie Love Song” and “Singularity” are derived from overcast British bombasticism.
This variegation is both a strength and a weakness for Shallow Palace. Operating in so many guises — often in the course of a single song — does keep things interesting. And the band’s versatility is remarkable, especially in an era marked by rigid subgenrefication. But by spreading itself so thin, Shallow Palace becomes a jack of many trades but a master of none. Ghost, as a result, is a pleasant and occasionally engaging listen, but not an essential one.
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