September 21, 2010 - SideOneDummy
Taken on its own, Fake Problems’ Real Ghosts Caught On Tape is a fine album. It’s a catchy, foot-tapping disc with strong melodies bolstered by frontman Chris Farren’s discovery of his actual singing voice, eschewing the oft-gruff delivery of earlier work. However in doing so, he’s cost the music some of its vibrancy. Indeed, Ghosts is a significant departure from last year’s terrific It’s Great To Be Alive that’s likely to meet resistance from their longstanding fans.
The band have dispensed with most of Alive’s horns and other odd instrumentation in pursuit of a full-bodied, textured, pop-minded sound that leaves those old Against Me! comparisons in the dust. Ted Hutt produced the album, and one can hear an echo of his work on Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound in Ghosts’ anthemic pop-rock spirit and rich tone. It’s hard to fault Fake Problems’ desire to broaden their sound, and the execution is excellent, but it’s tough not to find yourself longing for the raw, ramshackle energy of its predecessors. In its place there are plenty of background “ooh”s and an embrace of big, Phil Spector-style pop arrangements.
For those that can check their preconceptions at the door, there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s the band’s most readily accessible, radio-friendly release, and it’s well-written start to finish. The idea of leaving behind angry indolence and drug-addled malingering to seize life’s possibilities is a constant lyrical thread throughout. Their story of self-discovery and redemption runs from rousing anthemic opener “ADT” with its question, “Where am I supposed to go? What am I expected to say? Who the hell am I going to pretend to be today?” through the resolve of the bouncy, rockabilly-tinged “RSVP,” where Farren talks about wanting “to become a slightly better man,” to the lazy, drifting dream-pop finale, “Ghost To Coast,” on which the singer laments his “lack of motivation, lapse of ambition,” concluding “you can’t conjure up meaning without perhaps believing that you’re good enough.”
Though the peppy ‘60s soul-pop “Soulless,” with its choruses of girl-group “ah”s (courtesy of Arrested Development actresses Mae “Ann” Whitman and Alia “Maeby” Shawkat) feels too much like Katrina And The Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine,” it’s immediately redeemed by the next track, album highlight “Complaint Dept.” The bristling high-in-the mix percussion recalls Vampire Weekend, and the reggae-inflected rise-and-fall melody gives the song an infectious insistence unmatched elsewhere on the album. It also boasts the album’s best chorus, a biting jab at fauxhemian cynicism: “Wasting time is all the rage/Those bad ideas won’t leave your brain/When you can’t control what all the others say/Complain, complain, complain.”
Grumbling about such a winsome slab of thoughtful, well-conceived hook-addled rock feels like being a sour sport. Yet as a lover of their earlier, vigorously adventurous folk-punk releases, it’s hard not to agree when Farren sings on the soaring “Grand Finale,” “What happened to the rage? Where did all the anger go?”