After 20-plus years and eight other studio albums, The Bouncing Souls have arrived at Ghosts on the Boardwalk. This is a record for hardened fans, a celebration of all things Soul.
Despite the album being a triumph, the effort isn’t without its clunkers. Whether it’s the emotional yet boring “Never Say Die/When You’re Young”, the even blander “Airport Security”, or the emotionless pop jumbles that are “I Think That The World” and “Like The Sun”, an album should be damaged sufficiently if a third of its songs have no resonance; that’s simply not true for this album. The foundation of the remaining album is enough to get this to the status of something interesting. Since these songs are part of the 20th Anniversary Series, expect plenty of nostalgic throwbacks.
“Badass” is that frenzied, bass heavy fury that hearkens back to songs like “These Are The Quotes From Our Favorite ’80s Movies”. It’s a journey to their early Jersey-ized Oy roots and demonstrates they haven’t completely mellowed. “Dubs Stay True” is a cousin of “Night On Earth”, that rousing anthem played in the wee hours while recalling the memories and occurrences that actually mean something despite things having irrevocably changed. It fits wonderfully in the same vein as a song like “The Mental Bits” in that it’s a gift to fans and themselves. “We All Sing Along” is another throwback to stuff from their early albums. It’s another anthemic look back that buzzes with their trademark sound. It plays out like a street poet voyeur that watches the depressing citizens of some bad Jersey neighborhood.
But the album isn’t all about mining their catalog. In fact, many of the songs on the LP are just pure celebrations of where they’ve come from. “The Mental Bits” is the band’s celebration of their victory over time, politics and other music business BS. It feels unlike so many other songs from the band: It’s light and breezy, like a walk through summer, complete with a harmonica that sounds like whistling down by some old river. It’s much poppier and only lightly tingles with their well-established punk energy, but with so many other contributions, a song this strummy deserves to exist. “Boogie Woogie Downtown” is a chance for the band to no longer regret the past and to ruin their future. It’s as equally as strummy, but it demonstrates that they still haven’t gotten things right and not all of the aspects of their lives are worth fond remembrance. “Ghosts On The Boardwalk” is synthesis of the kind of sound the album jumps between: the underlining current of punk rock with that steady-as-a-knife bass line and the emotional vulnerability. Sadly, it’s lacking the punch of many of their songs.
The album has two shining moments of pure Souls goodness. “Big Eyes” is kind of twangy, a down-home folk song that is talking to a young girl about life’s hardships, something the band likens to a movie where they’ve “Seen this film/Already know the ending/Some of the faces change/But the plot it stays the same”. And when the song turns to some baile folklorico guitar, you can especially feel the countrified pain the band is working with. They’ve stripped away all their musical and emotional fury and have found a place where they are completely open, no gimmicks and no crowd of friendly punks to back them up. It’s a small nod to who they’ve progressively become. “Gasoline” may be the best song here, and one of their best in years. It’s about not wanting to recognize who you are because you’re afraid of what you’ve become (“Sex and violence has lost its charm/I need something to amuse/War is boring, it’s not enough/I need a shock down to my shoes”) and how you’d like to burn down who you are for the hope of something different. Fans of the Souls love their optimism with a hint of cynicism, and this song delivers. It’s an even bigger anthem than anything they’ve ever done, with a heavy mix of their punk roots and rock anthem chants of “Bring me some gasoline.” It plays like a left hook in an album of fun but relatively safe songs. It’s the reason you get into punk rock in the first place.
While these songs had all been released throughout 2009, this tracklist in this particular order make for a truly rich experience of getting to know the band again and getting a peek of where they’re going.