by Matt Clemens
The front cover of Ghost Alive (the sixth album from The Boxer Rebellion) depicts frontman Nathan Nicholson in a dank looking motel room, leaning forward on a chair with his head in his hands in utter despair. It sets the tone for the record, which is a deep and melancholic affair born from a lot of pain, but ultimately an uplifting companion to moments of melancholy.
Ghost Alive is an incredibly intimate album, made up predominantly of soft acoustic guitar and simple but graceful piano orchestration, with some stunning string and horn sections in various numbers. ‘Rain, ‘River’ and ‘Lost Cause’ contain some of the album’s more complex guitar composition and they are definitely stand out tracks, but the true success of this album lies within its rich and personal narrative.
Nicholson’s lyrics have always been reflective, but his struggle to remain positive in the face of adversity comes through more powerfully than ever. The opener ‘What the F**k’ is a brooding acoustic number, in which Nicholson confronts the demons of his past in a kind of musical therapy. That pretty much sums up what Ghost Alive is; soothing therapy for the mind and soul.
Despite its dark surface, the album is incredibly uplifting, with tracks like ‘Lost Cause’ and ‘Under Control’ delivering genuine optimism, lyrically and musically. There is no greater example of this than ‘Love Yourself’, a track that Nicholson describes as delivering ‘hope in the face of hopelessness’, and (from my perspective) helps us to remember to be good to ourselves no matter how dark things get, and that it’s okay to sometimes ask for help.
Nicholson’s vocals are always impressive but they are somehow more distinguished than ever here, again a testament to the raw emotions behind his powerful words. His voice soars highest on ‘Here I Am’, again inspired by the various personal tragedies that have befallen him throughout his life, most recently the passing of his father. Anyone that has gone through similar heartache will deeply appreciate the words and the message behind them. Music really is a powerful outlet for dealing with the weight of the world. Ghost Alive is just that – a thing of comfort and hopefulness, and it’s something I’ll be listening to for a very long time.
Ghost Alive is out now via Absentee Records.