Safe Travels

Jukebox The Ghost

Yep Roc, 2012

http://jukeboxtheghost.com

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/12/2013

This album, the third from power pop trio Jukebox The Ghost, is the equivalent of a 90 degree summer day after a long cold winter: it’s relentlessly bright, a little overbearing, buoyed by sheer enthusiasm. Everything here is as big as a Broadway musical, from the soaring hooks to the densely layered instrumentation – it’s like Ben Folds Five smashed into Queen, though less tongue-in-cheek than either of those charmingly witty acts. Indeed, the most apt word to describe Safe Travels is “earnest,” a sense that emerges for better or worse over the course of these thirteen tracks about love, loss, and maturity. Altogether, this results in a mostly captivating if sometimes over-the-top patchwork of ebullient energy.

The album launches out in fine form with “Somebody,” which is nothing short of pop perfection. Shimmering guitars, lilting harmonies, and pulsating drums all intersect with Ben Thornewill’s classically lovely vocals on this plaintive anthem to companionship. It’s like a modern take on Queen’s “Somebody To Love,” a song totally worthy of endless airplay this summer. This track alone justifies the rest of Safe Travels – it’s that god. Meanwhile, it provides a nice segue into “Oh, Emily,” a cheerful kiss-off anthem tricked out with pulsating guitar riffs and warm keys. Guitarist Tommy Siegel takes the reins on the vocals, building up to the memorable hook: “Oh, Emily, you’re a funny girl / I didn’t mean to break your heart / But I’m lost in love with everyone / and so now’s as good as any place to start.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first half of the album stays in this bombastic vein, the band’s sound becoming fuller and more operatic on tracks like “At Last” and “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind.” Tonal shifts are a dime a dozen, and while the songs flow past in an enjoyable, busy flurry, there sometimes seems to be more style than substance.

Still, it’s more consistent than the album’s second act, which falls prey to its own sense of ponderousness. The themes are Big and Important, the instrumentation is even broader, but the lyrics are often too slight to support the weight of Jukebox The Ghost’s ambitions. No track embodies this feeling more so than the appropriately titled “Dead,” which begins as a vague, plodding piano ballad and gradually morphs into rafter-raising, soul-searching power ballad. “If you’re dead, how do you know if you’re really dead?” they muse, while the song’s refrain is a repetitive plea “If you’re there, God / See to it, God.” The inconsistency of “Dead” nags at me because the structure of the song seems so belabored that it’s a shame to pair it with clichéd stabs at profundity. “Devils On Our Side,” a spare cut with just keys and muddling falsetto, suffers this same fate, and “All For Love” is another forgettable foray.

Fortunately, they do better on “Adulthood,” creating an unexpected pairing with the uber-jaunty piano riffs and the dark, weighty lyrics, which tackle the death of Thornewill’s grandfather from lung cancer. The enveloping warmth of Thornewill’s vocals as he sings, “And I dare you to survive being grown for the rest of your life / From adulthood, no one survives” makes this one of the gems on Safe Travels, subtle but still a standout.

Thankfully, around through the more maudlin moments of the disc bring some reward for the listener: penultimate cut “Everybody Knows” is rollicking, while closer “The Spiritual” is easily the most unique moment here. Like its name implies, this is Jukebox’s take on gospel: the harmonies meld effortlessly with the trills of piano and accenting handclaps, washing over you in a lovely, otherworldly listen.

From the first burst of guitars on “Somebody” to the quiet closeout of “The Spiritual,” it’s clear that Jukebox The Ghost has an undeniable ear for crafting effervescent, hooky pop songs. Their vision can sometimes be a bit too on-the-nose in its eagerness to impress, but on the whole, Safe Travels handles its themes of mortality and maturity with a joyous sincerity and an operatic energy that is endearing and endlessly listenable.

Rating: B-

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© 2013 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Yep Roc, and is used for informational purposes only.