I enjoy, defend, and enjoy enjoying and defending plenty of frivolous crap, so if there were an argument to make on behalf of Holy Ghost!, I would love to convincingly set it forth. For example, I’m hooked on “American Idol” and am currently plowing through every episode of “Cheers,” and I would love to talk with you about both.
However, Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut puts me at a loss. There is no way to penetrate this album. It’s dance music that exists entirely for its own disposal, either into your iTunes, your DJ set or your garbage can. At no point do I get the sense that Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser are even attempting to make a point, “make a point” broadly defined as “communicate thought or emotion.” It’s easy to slag emo for its cartoonish self-obsession and Nick Cave for being too intellectually determined, but at least these people are trying. And even though dance music is designed for functionality and surface-level appeal, the best producers and DJs have a voracious appetite for music history and a sublime understanding of contextualization’s power. In comparison, I can tell that Holy Ghost! likes the ’80s.
This album is “lite” embodied. Lite-pop, lite-disco, lite-emotional, lite-intelligent, lite-vocals, lite-party, lite-beer. Opener “Do It Again” sounds like a narcotized funk interpretation of Beat Goes Bang’s completely stupid cover of Tommy James’s “Draggin’ the Line,” ‡ which, now that I think about it, is kind of OK. Closer “Some Children” allows a group of background singers to swarm around guest vocalist Michael McDonald (!), and it’s quite nice to hear him get subsumed within the groove. What lies between these two tracks is detached (but not too detached) melodicism and silly lyrics like “When you promised to be honest with me / Were you being honest? / Tell me honestly” over interchangeable, harmless backdrops. It’s not like New Order and Depeche Mode didn’t write worse clunkers, but they also made “Temptation” and “Master and Servant.” Holy Ghost! is too cool to put itself out there like that. It is certainly possible to inflate vapidity until it explodes into real emotion (see, e.g., Steely Dan’s Gaucho), but that requires, you know, ambition.
‡This is easily the best reference I will ever make in a record review.