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Giving Up the Ghost

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Album Review

On Gene Loves Jezebel's 2001 release, Giving Up the Ghost, singer Michael Aston continues to perform without his twin brother Jay, one of the original co-founders of the band. Perhaps it's Aston's estrangement from his brother that lends itself to the singer's dramatic and guttural vocal style. Whatever the case, Aston is a passionate performer, full of fire and intensity, and Giving Up the Ghost is one explosive kaleidoscope of an album. Elements of retro (early U2 and the Alarm) and psychedelia (the Doors and Lou Reed) pepper this otherwise earnest commercial rock album. Indeed, kudos go to producer Geza X (Meredith Brooks and the Dead Kennedys) for extracting a contemporary sensibility from the beloved '80s post-punk band. Listeners of Giving Up the Ghost should be quick to notice how the bass parts, courtesy of Clint Reynolds, drive many of the album's songs. Their place up front helps characterize the tracks — eerie, urgent, tense, fevered, and so forth — adding to the rich color already supplied by Aston's primal singing. There is plenty of good fare to be found on this vibrant album. "Sly Old Fox" combines down-home funk with loads of raunchy guitar rock and slap-bass sound. This devil of a song is on fire, and Aston scorches as he slithers through the slick words. Elsewhere, the urgent "Speak My Language," with its frenetic guitars and driving rhythm section, holds the greatest mass appeal on the set and would do well on mainstream rock radio. However, the most eccentric song on this collection — and the best one — is "Push," a tense, electrified tribute to delivering a baby. There is nothing commercial about this song, and it's too bad, because it just screams with fever-pitch dynamics and parts that bounce around like gumballs in a machine. "Push" is a great ensemble piece, with a pointed bassline that, again, propels the song. Aston's performance here mimics a Lamaze coach — on speed — as he talks a woman through delivery. If this poor mother-to-be doesn't pass out from the delivery, she should from Aston's heart-racing performance, which is relentless as he pushes listeners along. The closing sample of a woman giving birth is a nice, almost funny, touch. For the curious, "It's a baby boy," shouts an elated Aston at the end. Giving Up the Ghost's one faltering moment is "Limey." With his spoken word delivery, Aston tries too hard to be Lou Reed on this track. His performance, backed by lonely guitar-oriented lounge music, is adequate, but he should just be himself. Aston is much better when singing in his signature dramatic style. The pressure cooker of an affair that is Giving Up the Ghost is a welcome return by a seasoned band that can more than hold its own alongside the acts of 2001 — and perhaps teach them a thing or two. If you're looking for music that has a pulse, you will certainly find it on this disc. You may go into cardiac arrest while listening to it, but what a way to go.

Biography

Formed: 1981 in Porthcawl, Wales

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Twin brothers Jay and Michael Aston began playing music in 1980 when they formed Slav Arian with guitarist Ian Hudson and a drum machine. Though the Astons grew up in Porthcawl, South Wales, they moved to London in 1981 and renamed the goth-influenced group Gene Loves Jezebel. The trio played several live shows and were quickly signed by Situation 2. In May 1982, the label released Gene Loves Jezebel's demo single, "Shavin' My Neck." The band then added bassist Julianne Regan and drummer Dick Hawkins....
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Giving Up the Ghost, Gene Loves Jezebel
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