I found myself in a strange position last year, finding the almost universally praised Ghost album Meliora hit-or-miss. I'd much preferred their previous effort, Infestissumam, which was conversely met with lukewarm reviews by the public at large. I think I can split the difference on this new EP, Popestar. The five-track EP only features one new Ghost composition, "Square Hammer", but damn is it a corker.
Those who still pine for the band to return to the relative heaviness of their first album, Opus Anonymous, still won't give a shit. It's got those same Blue Oyster Cult-meets-ABBA pop hooks that metal purists have been decrying since at least album #2. But for those of us on board with such possibilities, "Square Hammer" is one of the shining gems in the band's catalog. It's a relentless confection of earworm hooks, carnival organ and a harmony chorus that just won't quit.
The other four tracks are covers in the vein of the band's 2013 EP If You Have Ghosts. The song selection is just that much more adventurous than on the previous extended play. First up is "Nocturnal Me", an old Echo & the Bunnymen cut from their classic Ocean Rain album… you know, the one with "The Killing Moon", although that was thankfully considered too obvious to cover here. The Ghost version adds a bit more beef to the original's post-punk guitar tone, registering somewhere between old Marilyn Manson and H.I.M., but better than that comparison might sound.
"I Believe" shows that Ghost do indeed listen to music from this century, it having originated on Simian Mobile Disco's 2007 album, Attack Decay Sustain Release. This one is primarily a showcase for Papa Emeritus III's crooning, accompanied only by a light synth chorus and brushed drums. It's a decent rendition in its own right that seems more like an interlude tying the heavier songs together, sandwiched as it is in the middle of the sequencing.
Next up is "Missionary Man", a huge hit for the Eurythmics back in 1986: one of their last really big ones, and one which gets almost zero nostalgia spins 30 years later. The heavy, bombastic guitars work really well on this one, although Emeritus' weirdly nasal intonation sounds uncomfortably like the sprechgesang of Fred Scheider of the B-52's. Still a decent stab at an unfairly overlooked 80's pop classic.
Finally we have a song that nearly everyone hearing this, myself included, will have been heretofore unfamiliar with: "Bible" by Swedish band Imperiet. Also dating from 1986, this song features the gated drums, gospel chorus and ringing, atonal guitars that would be expected out of a song from the era (if Imperiet hadn't written this song, Mike & the Mechanics would have had to). "Bible" is one of the most epic and unapologetically grandiose pop statements Ghost have ever released, even if they didn't actually write it. If you can't get into this you just don't fuck with the 80's, and at this point that means maybe you shouldn't be fucking with Ghost either.