Album Review: Big Wreck – ‘Ghosts’

Jun 02, 2014

When it comes to Big Wreck, I admit that I had put most of their music in the rear view mirror of my mind. The imminent release of their fourth album, Ghosts, seemed like a good time to reacquaint myself with the band and their music.

Big Wreck formed in the early 1990s when Canadian vocalist/guitarist Ian Thornley met up with fellow musicians from the Berklee College of Music. The success of their debut album, In Loving Memory in 1997, and single, “The Oaf,” signalled a promising future. Of course sometimes the pieces in the puzzle that is rock n’ roll don’t quite fit. Follow-up singles and albums, while charting well in Canada, fared poorly elsewhere. Eventually Thornley put Big Wreck to bed, and continued as a solo performer. 

Big Wreck – “The Oaf”

In 2010, Thornley reunited with original Big Wreck member Brian Doherty, leading to a tour and eventually the 2012 release of Big Wreck’s third album, Albatross. Even though they had been on hiatus for nearly a decade, the success of Albatross helped bring Big Wreck into the collective consciousness once again.

Big Wreck – “Albatross”

Which brings us to the present: Big Wreck approached the making of Ghosts with a renewed sense toward the very things that turned them on to rock n’ roll in the first place. The album, which took upwards of six months to complete, was recorded at Revolution Studios and Vespa Studios in Toronto with production help from Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Cancer Bats) and Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush). The end result is an album that benefits from lyrics that are at times both sorrowful and spiritual, music that is powerfully uplifting, and a band that sounds refreshed and rejuvenated.

The album gets off to a crackling start with the forcefulness of “A Place To Call Home” and “I Digress.” The band shows that they remain true to that driving intensity, large sound, and unbridled guitar virtuosity that has always made them appealing. The overall effect at times is positively overwhelming.

The album also ventures into some previously uncharted waters. From “Hey Mama” and “Diamonds” to “Still Here,” musical gears change at random. “The creative palette is a lot broader on this record, and sonically there’s a lot more going on that I just haven’t heard before,” Thornley notes.

While that thread of adventure is obvious, there is also evidence that Big Wreck does not want to stray too far from the mainstream. The lead single and title track “Ghosts,” propelled by Dave McMillan’s throbbing, melodic basslines, and Thornley’s vocals – which give it a Police-like quality – is both tuneful and thought-provoking, an ear-catcher, destined to receive airplay across multiple formats.

Big Wreck – “Ghosts”

At times Thornley’s vocal phrasings are subtle, but then there are occasions when he sings with a fervour as if every word counts, as if every syllable must be intonated a specific way in order to drive home his message. Big Wreck has always been a vehicle for Thornley, however, the musical contributions of Doherty and Paulo Neta on guitars, Chuck Keeping on drums and McMillan on bass, are equal parts of the engine that drive that big sound.

For a band that planted their roots nearly 20 years ago, Ghosts shows Big Wreck taking that natural step towards musical progression. “This time around, it really feels like we are a band that has a direction and a thing that we are going for,” says Thornley.

This is a new, mature Big Wreck with a sound that should bring in new listeners and reacquaint themselves with old fans, while ensuring not to alienate the long-time Thornley/Big Wreck followers. Big Wreck appear to be on the verge of reigniting a flame and a passion, arriving at that place where all the pieces are starting to fit.

– Marvin Matthews

About the Author

Brandon Wallis

Brandon is the Director of Marketing, Communications and Visitor Experience and for the National Music Centre and Editor-in-Chief of Amplify.

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