ALBUM REVIEW: Blue Oyster Cult – Ghost Stories

One of the least high-profile sign-offs since Button Gwinnett affixed his moniker to the Declaration, Ghost Stories (Frontiers Music srl), billed as Blue Oyster Cult’s final studio album, still qualifies as a “must have” for aficionados, even if it will never be widely celebrated or remembered in the same way as Secret Treaties, Agents Of Fortune, Cultosaurus Erectus, or Fire Of Unknown Origin.

This A.I.-aided project (spanning 1978-1983, plus one track from 2016, with a few covers, including fans’ fave “Kick Out The Jams”) quickly diminishes in comparison to The Symbol Remains, the 2020 comeback record which was something of a late-career humdinger.

Several Ghost Stories tracks might remind you that scenes deleted from your favourite movie were often deleted for good reason. Other songs are more worthy, justifying this gathering of lost gems, recovered from workshops, rehearsals, and various other wormholes of happenstance; played mainly by the old band, reimagined and technically massaged (with the help of that A.I. software) by long-time colleagues and the current band, notably Richie Castellano.

“Late Night Street Fight” boogies and bounces along, nice and smooth, a good place to start, very BOC.

Eric Bloom’s strength of character and sheer storytelling brio lift “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. That storytelling nous, though, is less well represented by the somewhat malformed “Shot In The Dark”, a detective tale that, in execution, is more Clouseau than Marlowe.

Buck Dharma’s elegiac vocal tones can’t quite rescue the soulful “The Only Thing”, but the guitar playing is customarily excellent, while the fun “Money Machine” is one of the best and funkiest of this Bouchard-heavy collection.

BOC, the very fine, enduring Long Island-formed outfit, have carved out a reins-of-steel, whips and black-leather legacy studded with scintillating, seminal milestones. That legacy is not just about Buck and Eric, and the late Allen Lanier, and Albert and Joe (the aforementioned Bouchards). It’s also about key collaborators, from Patti Smith and Richard Meltzer, to Michael Moorcock and John Shirley, and, of course, Sandy Pearlman, who imagined and conjured up so much of the BOC universe.

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway talks of another imagined world where “we lived as savages and kept our own tribal rules and had our own customs and our own standards, secrets, taboos and delights”. Hemingway (a 1961 suicide) may not have been a direct contributor to the mythos of BOC (forged a billion years ago, founded 1967-ish), but he also wrote: “We looked at each other and laughed and then she said one of the secret things.”

There’s something very cultish about that, too – sibilantly seductive. Literary. Mysterious (“Charles the grinning boy …”).

With BOC, back in the day, you worried that you wouldn’t quite understand it all, and then it worried you more, when you began to understand. Those who didn’t get it were best left on the outside, and Ghost Stories will never convince those outsiders that there’s any proper worth to what has been added, to what is new.

Take this labour of love in the spirit in which it is intended, though, and it springs to worthwhile life. There’s no “Astronomy”, no “Reaper”, no “Godzilla” or “Veteran”. But it’s still BOC, and for that we should be eternally grateful.

“We sat and she said something secret and I said something secret back. Other people would think we are crazy. Poor unfortunate other people. We’ll have such fun …”

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7 / 10