Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost
Kiss Each Other Clean, the previous Iron & Wine release, marked a new departure for Sam Beam. There was still the trademark clever wordplay over the lovely melodies, but the production was big. So big, it was almost exhausting, there was so much going on. And there was a lot of cussing. At times, it seemed like the bigness of the production was getting too much even for Sam himself. Despite, or perhaps because of all this, it was a great album. It was the sound of someone changing, learning, and evolving from a musician into a mature artist. Ghost on Ghost is an altogether different proposition. It’s a much simpler, gentler album. The production is still big, but the songs are not as challenging as the ones on its predecessor and they’re slightly less rewarding because of that. ‘The Desert Babbler’ is full of the oohs and aahs of 70s easy listening. ‘New Mexico’s No Breeze’ is the sound of a trip in a comfortable old Sedan with the windows down to let in the air. And gone is the cussing. In it’s place there’s ‘Joy’, which is heartfelt and confessional, but also simple and sugary sweet. Perhaps too sweet. “Deep inside the heart of this troubled man, there’s an itty-bitty boy tugging hard at your hand, Born bitter as a lemon but you must understand that you’ve been bringing me joy”. All of which is strange because the album begins with ‘Caught in the Briars’, which bobs and weaves in classic Iron & Wine fashion and even ends with a nod towards ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. There’s also plenty of wonderful word play, ‘Grace For Saints and Ramblers’ being the best example. And then there’s ‘Lovers’ Revolution’, which constantly changes tempo, creating peaks and troughs of anxiety, but which ends on a reassuringly soothing note. Ghost on Ghost lacks the consistent tension that made Kiss Each Other Clean so special. It’s a good album. It’s Iron & Wine after all. But the mature Sam Beam has the capacity to provide slightly more thrills than can be found here.