Their follow-up to 2007's Thirst For Romance finds Cherry Ghost making huge strides beyond their former country-tinged indie stylings.
With songwriter Simon Aldred maturing at an alarming rate, Beneath This Burning Shoreline suggests the Bolton combo may be the Tindersticks of their era, mining the subtle twists of emotion in his songs through arrangements that deftly balance grandiosity and pathos. Another comparison that comes strongly to mind is Nick Cave: like him, Aldred favours storytelling shadowed with gothic portents, animated by arrangements of great theatrical moment. Take the opening track "We Sleep On Stones", a murder ballad in which wartime bereavement leaves a lingering legacy of death and retribution, sketched out in carefully-wrought images like "photographs we cling to still call our names" and "100,000 heartbeats twist and turn the bedsheets" over a dramatic arrangement in which piano and guitar are whipped into a red mist by the stirring strings.
Or "The Night They Buried Sadie Clay", a tribute to the heroine's refusal to go gently into that good night, which opens with a subtly stalking groove, as if spying on its subject, with strings lamenting at its heart, before the song breaks down into a funeral march of noble brass and strings; but like a New Orleans funeral, the way back from the grave side is taken at a celebratory clip, in a galloping swirl of sound. It's a marvellous piece of work which confirms how tight a grip pop can take on art, with a little focus and determination.
Aldred apparently travelled round Europe while writing these songs, spending time notably in Rome and Berlin, which perhaps accounts for the weary, fin de siècle manner of some of the material. The prevailing tone throughout is akin to that chastened postwar mood captured by Carol Reed in The Third Man; certainly, Aldred's characters would not be out of place gazing down upon ant-people from a ferris wheel, or fleeing through sewers.
There's the "well-groomed weekend brute" of "Kissing Strangers", and at the other extreme, the victim of domestic abuse in "Only A Mother Could", poignantly persisting with her positive viewpoint – "Tide will turn, and in time I'll learn to love/What only a mother could" – amid the smothering swirl of strings and organ.
Elsewhere, "Black Fang" employs a florid, European version of early Velvet Underground drone-rock to capture the most ambivalent of passions ("Be my midnight swimmer, I will be your sea-salt lips/Be my cold-blood killer, and I will be your fingertips"), while the most powerful impact is perhaps wielded in the wretched "My God Betrays", where solemn acoustic guitar is haunted by creepy bowed bass and birdsong as Aldred muses upon the quixotic nature of a deity who "watches my love bloom, and curses it down... strangles the life of my day". With friends like that, who needs hope?
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