Blue Öyster Cult - Ghost Stories

Blue Öyster Cult – Ghost Stories

Capping a career that has lasted for over half a century, Blue Öyster Cult have issued their fifteenth studio album. Ghost Stories is comprised of performance rehearsals and workshopping demos that were intended for albums recorded between 1978 and 1983 (and one track from 2016) but, for one reason or another, never finished. The original analogue tapes were transferred to digital audio, then de-mixed, re-mixed, and otherwise enhanced using AI by band member Richie Castellano and producer Steve Schenck. Because of the limitations of the source material, some tunes fare better than others sonically. However, for fans of BOC, this collection of lost gems is a treasure trove of what might have been.

Because some tracks were only partially usable or never completed, contributions from current and former bandmates Eric Bloom, Donald Roeser, Joe and Albert Bouchard, Rick Downey and Richie Castellano were used to flesh out the songs and present a complete picture.

Opener Late Night Street Fight relies on bass-heavy riffing and a little more synth than we are used to from the band (not a bad thing at all) to push this one over the finish line. The vocals are prime Blue Öyster Cult, but the song itself is just okay. It sounds like a demo in places more than a fully realized product. You can hear why it didn’t make the final cut at the time. The following track, on the other hand, is a pop-rocker that would not have been out of place on the earlier Agents of Fortune album. Cherry’s mellow (by comparison) bridge leads to a guitar freak out that is equal to any the band have committed to posterity. Not only is the song fun, the sound is pretty solid throughout.

Joe Bouchard submitted a new lead vocal for what, in my opinion, is the best song on the album, So Supernatural. A perfect fit for the Spectres album, it embodies all the best aspects of the band. The guitar parts shine and enhance the classic vocal approach. Every member of the band seems to be playing at the top of their game, which makes you wonder how this one never landed on a proper album. It splits the difference between the beauty of I Love The Night and the enchanting Byrds-style guitar parts of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper to devastatingly incredible effect.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place was a concert staple of the band’s earlier years; its inclusion on the band’s second live album, Some Enchanted Evening, exhibited a ferocity and rawness that the Animal’s version only hinted at. By contrast, the studio run through simply falls flat. Bloom’s vocal veers wildly between disinterested and passionate, but always too tame, and the instruments too mannered. Even though the arrangement echoes the live version, that indefinable “something” that occurs between the band and its audience is missing. The same is largely true of the MC5 cover, Kick Out The Jams. The drums and guitar solos make a valiant effort to replicate that energy, but its not quite there.

Allen Lanier’s keyboards are the stars of a couple pop-rockers, Soul Jive and Shot In The Dark. The former features guitar and Lanier’s funky clavinet underpinning the verses. The trouble comes in the musical interludes between the verses, which are simply bloodless. The vocals are impassioned and the guitar solo strong, but the bass would have benefitted from a funkier approach. With a little more work, this song would have been a radio hit. Lanier’s boozy, saloon-inspired piano intro to Shot In The Dark is a fantastic tribute to the late keyboardist. The song is the musical version of a pulp novel about a private eye swept off his feet by a femme fatale. The tempo eventually picks up and rocks out, but again the performance seems tentative.

Gun is a raucous rocker about a murderous man apparently admonishing himself for his own misdeeds. Once more, Lanier’s keys carry the song, even if they are buried much too low in the mix. It’s the story that takes center stage, the music relegated to endless repetition that never develops. Similarly, the organ and synth parts carry The Only Thing. The slow burn intro features an interesting bass line. Don Roeser handles the lead vocals and does his usual splendid job on what turns out to be one of the more fully formed songs on the album. Another is Money Machine. This winner highlights rich background vocals that lend a bit of commerciality to the song. Everything, from the lead vocal to the arrangement, is radio-ready.

The final two songs end the album on a lighter note. Don’t Come Running To Me presents some interesting ideas, especially in the keyboard parts, but the guitars feel too lightweight for the song. The solo is ferocious, but feels as if it was recorded separately from the rest of the song. The song is short, so the repetition works against it, as if they were never sure about where to take the song next. The final track (there is a cover of the Door’s Roadhouse Blues on the Japanese version which was not included in our review copy) is a rare acoustic cover of the Beatles’ If I Fell. Recorded in 2016 when Kasim Sultan was part of the band, it is a relatively faithful cover of the original. The vocals reflect the age of the singers, but that is at the same time both endearing and a little bit cringeworthy.

Ghost Stories as a whole is pretty much the same, endearing in parts and cringeworthy in others. As a long-time fan, I admit to loving the fact that there is at least one more album from a much-beloved band, as all indications are that this will be their last. Would I have rather had a completely new album? Maybe, but since none of these songs was ever previously released (except as live versions in the case of the Animals and MC5 covers), its good to hear what might have been back in the band’s heyday. If only they had had more time to work on the arrangements and polish up the songs. Still, accepting Ghost Stories for what it is, I would recommend the album to longtime fans and completists. If you are a newbie, begin your voyage of discovery elsewhere.

01. Late Night Street Fight (3:26)
02. Cherry (2:38)
03. So Supernatural (5:55)
04. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (3:58)
05. Soul Jive (2:58)
06. Gun (4:27)
07. Shot In The Dark (3:26)
08. The Only Thing (4:04)
09. Kick Out The Jams (2:22)
10. Money Machine (2:43)
11. Don’t Come Running (3:27)
12. If I Fell (2:16)

Time Time – 41:40

Eric Bloom – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Vocals
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Guitar, Keyboards
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser – Guitar, Vocals
~ With:
Rick Downey – Drums (3 & 11)
Richie Castellano – Additional Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Kasim Sultan – Vocals (12)
Jules Radino – Percussion (12)

Record Label: Frontiers Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 12th April 2024

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