Ghost of the Robot
Ghost of the Robot: Mad Brilliant
So here’s a record you won’t find at your local music store. And more’s the pity, since Ghost of the Robot’s debut CD ‘Mad Brilliant’ is one of the most listenable rock albums to have emerged out of the North American rock scene in quite a while.
The most (perhaps the only) familiar name on the roster is that of James Marsters (‘Spike’ on Star World’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’) who is the lead vocalist and sometime lyricist. I can hear the skeptics out there already sharpening their claws, but you can put those whetstones away guys; this is no vanity project by some egotistical but musically challenged TV star (hello, David Hasselhoff). And thankfully, unlike many an indie rock band’s debut effort, the music here is not self-consciously ‘edgy’ – trying desperately to be non-earnest but achieving the opposite because of its overly-earnest cynicism. It’s an honest to goodness rock n’ roll romp that is an all-too-brief showcase for the band’s formidable musicianship.
The quintet consists of Marsters, lead guitarist Charlie DeMars, keyboardist and guitarist Stephen Sellers, lead bassist Kevin McPherson, and drummer Aaron Anderson and all possess musical cred above and beyond your average garage band.
For guitar aficionados especially, there is plenty to admire here: DeMars’ breathtaking guitar work on the darkly funny hero fantasy ‘German Jewish’, his pas de trois with McPherson and Sellers on ‘Dangerous’ and ‘David Letterman’. The smorgasbord that is ‘Good Night Sweet Girl’ may be fleetingly reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but is ultimately very much GOTR, and a logical culmination of what has preceded it.
The vocals by Marsters are not all silken smooth nor do they go the clichéd ‘I’m not copying Robert Plant – honestly” Axl Rose way. His voice quality is somewhat more akin to the late Michael Hutchence of INXS, though the style is all his own. “I’m just a little boy with an untrained voice” he sings on ‘Call 911’, making his voice crack just a little at the appropriate word – the actor in him comes mischievously and endearingly into play here.
The sublime, Dylanesque ‘Angel’, which he has also penned, is one of the few numbers where we get to hear Marsters’ unadorned vocals, and this paean to a good woman, with its deceptive simplicity of melody and lyrics, is just the right vehicle for his honey-gravel voice.
Offsetting this sweetly plaintive song are the wailing chords of ‘Valerie’ (which incidentally starts with a brief tribute to another fiercely individualistic band – the Smiths), perhaps more conventional content-wise but delivered with an infectious verve that gives it instant rock standard status. And this fittingly gives way to the growling riff on the Smiths-like ‘Mad Brilliant’ which has some of the most audaciously ‘cheeky’ lyrics (by DeMars) heard in a long, long time: “When our lips first met/you didn’t get the hang of it/I bet that you still kiss like me/You realise it when you hear this/Realise it when you kiss.”
The tongue-in-cheek ‘David Letterman’ where the guy wishes he could be like his girl’s ‘favourite TV personality’, is exemplary of what is perhaps, ultimately, the band’s biggest (and most refreshing) strength: their highly infectious sense of fun. They obviously love music and are having a ball creating it. Nowhere in evidence is the cringe-inducing smiling-through-the-tears, “I hate being a rock star” attitude that is the bane of many a post-90s rock album. GOTR are having a damn good time, and hopefully, are here very much to stay.