Album Review: Veruca Salt, ‘Ghost Notes’
"I wanted to live / so I pretended to die." So goes the opening lyric on Ghost Notes, the first Veruca Salt album to feature the band's original lineup since 1997's Eight Arms to Hold You. Once again, frontwomen Louise Post and Nina Gordon weave their voices together in an endless stream of harmonies that showcase their impeccable flexibility and strength when they come together as one voice. Considering that Gordon, along with returning bassist Steve Lack and drummer Jim Shapiro, left the band in a cloud of bitter acrimony after Eight Arms to Hold You, it's no surprise that Ghost Notes is rife with a sense of unfinished business and renewed vigor. This is, after all, a band that broke up after its second album. Nevertheless, Post, Gordon, Lack and Shapiro sustain a startling level of musical unity here from start to finish. Across the board – with their singing, guitar playing, songwriting, and crafting hooks – Post and Gordon remind us that they were musical soul mates all along. But even moreso than their back catalog, Ghost Notes affirms that their union was as meant to be as any of rock's classic symbiotic pairings.
Now that we're fully immersed in a culture-wide wave of alt-rock nostalgia, why settle for semi-ironic upstart acts who were barely out of diapers in the '90s when we can have the genuine article? Well, the answer is that the overwhelming majority of bands who reunite after a lengthy absence struggle mightily to recapture their old spark and fall short of doing so. With Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt become the exceptions to the rule. Under the guiding hand of producer Brad Wood (who helmed their 1994 debut American Thighs), the Chicago quartet does a remarkable job of preserving its essence while also stocking the album with catchy song after catchy song. (When was the last time – even in the '90s – that a band presented fourteen songs in a row that flow together so seamlessly?)
At one point, Post and Gordon name-check the song "Dirty Back Road," a deep cut off the B-52's classic 1980 sophomore album, Wild Planet. For one line, Post and Gordon mimic the melody of the original song, tipping their hats, of course, to the sublime beauty that B-52's frontwomen Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson have been able to create when they bring out the best in each other's voices. On the same song, Post and Gordon mention Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." It's only natural that Veruca Salt's members, now in their forties, are stopping to show some respect for their elders. Musically speaking, Ghost Notes brims with maturity in counterbalance to its angsty attack.
If there's one criticism to be had, it's that the band's adult perspective hasn't quite caught up to the way it presents romance. For much of Ghost Notes, Post and Gordon make pointed references to shattered relationships. Post dove into this headspace in 2000, on Veruca Salt's vitriolic post-Gordon album Resolver, so it's a shame that she and Gordon don't arrive at any new way of looking at the way separations play out. Almost exclusively, the reunited pair avoids looking at the confusion and disillusionment that typically enshrouds the breakup experience. The two vocalists sound like they're trying to pep-talk themselves into keeping their chins up after being rejected, but with the all the newfound musical strengths at their disposal -- i.e: their old bandmates -- there's no need to talk themselves into sounding confident. With Ghost Notes, that confidence doesn't need to be stated out loud because it's already apparent in the way Veruca Salt still walks the walk.