There’s a reason why vampire enthusiasts have generally gone to the punk end of the spectrum as opposed to the metal end. Vampires, which exist in the realm of fantasy, comic books and RPGs, have always appealed to social outcasts, goths and nerds, whose trademark qualities are insecurity and emotional vulnerability. Both the Cure and Mayhem dress like vampires, but the Cure’s greatest legacy is that kind of vulnerability. If a member of Mayhem showed any sign of weakness, another member would have probably killed and eaten him.
In today’s world, that means we get the Black Ghosts, this decade’s answer to the Cure, for better or for worse. The Black Ghosts’ self-titled debut was released last summer to a modicum of hype, but really took off after their song “Full Moon” was featured on the Twilight soundtrack, which got Universal’s interest in a re-release. If the Cure used pre-Nirvana angst to be lonesome while serious, the Black Ghosts would rather have their fans deal with angst by one method and one method only: dancing their asses off.
Sure you could dance to New Order, or even some Cure songs (awkwardly), but there’s never been a goth band more danceable than the Black Ghosts. Of course, if you thought goth kids weren’t the type to dance, you must have missed the cultural trend recently satirized brilliantly by South Park. At the middle school level — the most basic level of music consumption — the line between real goth and fake goth, between cool music and non-cool music, doesn’t really mean all that much anymore. The phenomenon that started in college rock and grown-up rock has now finished its transformation. Among every age group, nerds and cool kids are dancing to the same music with no distinction, be it Soulja Boy, LCD Soundsystem, the Electric Six, or now, at middle school dances, the Black Ghosts.
There’s a lot of dangers and blame to be distributed for this trend, but none of it can really be place on the Black Ghosts, who formed in 2006, long after indie kids started dancing. In fact, as an album, The Black Ghosts is smart enough that it’s even hard to accuse the band of exploiting that trend. Dual forces Theo Keating and Simon Lord have taken a page from Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre playbook and realized that if no one wants to hear aggressive music anymore, one good strategy is to sugar coat the music as much as possible to hide the bitterness of the lyrical pill. How many people, be they 13, 19 or 30, will dance along to “Repetition Kills You” who will also understand that the song is basically mocking dance-rock standards, baiting music snobs with the refrain punch line: “This is a repetition of words/ dancing needs a repitition to work”? The same group who, 25 years ago, would really be listening to the Cure, and the same group who, 17 years ago, would be laughing at the poseurs who sang along to “In Bloom” without knowing what it means.
In fact, the greatest accomplishment of the Black Ghosts in the Urban Outfitters era is finding a way to get through to the serious fan without alienating the spurious one, and vice versa. The best songs on the album, such as “Repetition Kills You,” “Someway Through This” or the brilliant, pomo bashing “Any Way You Choose to Give It,” are all poppy and hooky as hell, but will absolutely nail any casual fan who happens to get a gist of what Keating and Lord are really singing about. There’s very little that would please the hardcore music fan more than giving a mental wedgie to the kids who gave them real wedgies in grade school and are now going after their music in addition to their lunch money.
All this subtle mocking is perhaps why the ultimate joke of The Black Ghosts is that the one exception to the dance fever is the album’s biggest track, “Full Moon.” The track with by far the most recognition is actually just a smart addition to the grand tradition of sweeping goth epics in the vein of “She Sells Sanctuary,” “Killing Moon” and “Pictures of You,” with a dance drumbeat and a string section to boot. This creates several layers of socio-musical commentary: They’re drawing in the tweens to contemporary indie dance rock with a song that may as well be from 1983; the difference between "Full Moon" and everything else may actually alienate tweens from dance rock before they’re old enough to know who James Murphy is. Meanwhile, college types who try to ignore the band for its Twilight fame will be ignoring music that’s just like what they’ve been dancing to over the past five years, and in some ways it’s even smarter, for no other reason than their misplaced sense of pride. The older people who do listen to the album will be better off.
Sure there’s a lot of questionable ethical implications with the Black Ghosts mixed in with a good ones, but a goth band with a rock conscious is successful even if their success in breaking through the mold of navel-gazing is Pyrrhic. Every generation gets the goth-rock band it deserves.