Following a truly great record is tough. You don’t want to totally go away from what you did so well the last time, yet you don’t want to just rehash your best material, either. It’s a fine balance to strike, and The Bouncing Souls do just that on their latest effort.
“Ghosts on the Boardwalk” contains just enough of what made 2006’s “The Gold Record” one of my favorite punk albums ever. Big, open rockers like “Gasoline” and “Dubs Says True” remind of songs like “Lean on Sheena” and “Sarah Saturday.” The excellent title track, especially, would have fit right in on “The Gold Record.” Elsewhere they sound as full of youthful energy as ever, on rejuvenating upstart cuts like “Never Say Die,” “I Think That the World…,” and “Badass.”
The Souls also go in some new directions on this record that work very well. Perhaps it’s how they recorded “Ghosts” that inspired such creativity: This CD is actually a compilation of tracks released month by month in 2009 to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary. With that sort of program, each song was given its own spotlight and room to breathe in a way most records don’t offer.
“Airport Security” has a more deliberate tempo than the band usually employs, and even features a bit of a country-guitar twang. “The Mental Bits” includes harmonica and evokes “The Pizza Song” from the last record. “Boogie Woogie Downtown” has a lazy, summer-afternoon gait that is quite appealing. And the stripped-down fervor of “Big Eyes” is a pleasant and marvelous surprise deep into the disc.
Lyrically these 12 tracks on the whole don’t break new ground for the Souls, trading on their tried-and-true formula of friendship, fidelity, and hope for a better future that sound a tad clumsy and worn around the edges at times. Songs like “When You’re Young,” “We All Sing Along,” and closer “Like the Sun” (which sounds way too much like “Gone”) have a been-there-done-that feel to the words. I’m willing to overlook it because asking the Souls not to write about these themes is like asking Springsteen not to write about cars.
On the whole, “Ghosts on the Boardwalk” belies the idea that growing up is hard for a punk band to do.
Favorite Track: “Big Eyes”
Least Favorite Track: “Badass”