The debut album from U.K. electro-pop duo Black Ghosts fails to deliver on the great promise engendered by their stunning early single, “Some Way Through This.” It’s such a gripping piece of futurist R&B that it could easily pass for a lost Aaliyah/Timbaland production. The vocals are raw and impassioned enough that first-time listeners will be forgiven for failing to recognize that the singer is a white British male -- Simon Lord, formerly of Simian -- and not a backup singer for Rhianna. A debut single that served as a better sign of things to come would be difficult to find.
But ultimately, the album’s remaining ten tracks only underscore ex negativo how much of a brilliant bulls-eye the opener is. It’s a collection of previous singles like “Some Way” and a few new productions as well, and it feels very much the part, a mix 'n' match bag of popular electronics. The productions, from Theo Keating of the Wiseguys, sound rather lackluster, the vocals not particularly compelling. Multiple tracks lack personality, sufficing merely as an assortment of genre indexes that would be best used as a children’s primer on different strains of electro-inflected British pop/rock.
The biggest offenders are the lazy dance rock that seems to occur every other track, with dry, fuzzy bass and highly generic drum production -- you could have told me they were made in a “sound like Ladytron” booth at the mall. Another single, “Any Way You Choose to Give It,” serves as exhibit A in this case: The synths that stab over garagey-dance drums are plunky rather than bouncy, such that they’re the sonic equivalent of your little brother poking you in the ribs on a long car ride.
Damon Albarn shows up on “Repetition Kills You” but even that sounds little more than freeze-dried Gorillaz. Other tracks more effectively return to the tech-soul mutation of “Some Way Through This” but lack its arresting intensity, partly because Lord’s voice is hardly ever given the room to swoon and croon that makes the opening track’s melody so gripping.
The result is a schizo split between album and single: While you’ve got ten tracks that other bands have done bigger and better before, you’ve still got one that’s untouchably singular enough you want to root for the guys, even when they seem to be fighting their own best interests.