At this point, it’s probably the best possible move for Andy Biersack to focus his attention away from Black Veil Brides and double down on the work under the Andy Black persona. He’s not going to do that if the indications that Black Veil Brides are re-recording their debut are anything to go by, but in solo one album, he’s made more interesting and memorable music than his main band have in the last three. That’s not to say that 2016’s The Shadow Side was a phenomenal effort, as its unevenness and over-reliance on glitz over substance proved – plus the lack of anything tangible to justify claims that it was inspired by acts like Joy Division and the Cocteau Twins – but the shift to an alt-pop sound that would explode in popularity just a couple of years later unlocked potential in Biersack that hadn’t really been seen in years. Thus, with alt-pop in full swing and Biersack clearly knowing what he’s doing with regards to it, The Ghost Of Ohio couldn’t come at a more opportune time, especially if he’s able to consolidate the last three years of experience to improve a formula that, in all honesty, only really needed tweaking above any major overhauls.
But actually coming to The Ghost Of Ohio though, it makes sense that Biersack released the rendition of My Way that he did to prelude it, starting with something smooth and soulful to emulate the Frank Sinatra original that he could’ve easily pulled off and ran with, but morphing into something resembling Sid Vicious’ terrible cover instead and winding up as an abject mess. That ultimately feels like the ideal microcosm for this album too – one that, on paper, looks to deliver the sort of ‘80s soft rock by way of modern pop-rock that Biersack could knock out in his sleep at this point, but taking diversions and creative half-measures that leaves it deeply unsatisfying. If The Shadow Side was a scattered but generally likable diversion for Biersack’s usual fare, The Ghost Of Ohio feels like flabbiest possible difference-splitting of the two, pairing the glossy flavourness that took up too much space on his debut with the underweight cries for populism that’s become so characteristic of Black Veil Brides, with neither doing all that much to really sell this as a worthwhile endeavour.
It feels like Biersack of all people wanted more than that as well, especially when this album is supposed to serve as a companion of sorts to his graphic novel of the same name, telling the story of the titular ghost of Ohio who returns every hundred years to try and solve the mystery of his death. Of course, you could easily make the argument that the album needs its accompanying literature to succeed (though given that any good work should be able to stand on its own merits, that’s not a salient argument), but strip back everything to its most bare framework, this doesn’t rise above the typically mawkish framework of an outcast with nowhere to go, and Biersack treating it as exactly that doesn’t help either. It can work in spots, chief among them being the callbacks to Springsteen-esque odes to young love and unbridled spirit in a dead-end town on The Promise and The Martyr, but then there’s the title track that boils down its sentiment of melancholy and placelessness to a statement as MySpace bio-ready as “My hometown never felt that much like home”, or Soul Like Me which is clearly trying to position itself as the emo anthem for unrequited love for years to come. It’s the sort of scene pandering that feels impossibly blatant, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with playing to a certain audience, this sort of blank-faced faux-earnestness has next to no potential to cross over to anyone beyond who it’s intended for. The primarily young audience that Biersack has cultivated will undoubtedly eat this up, but even for as often as simplicity can be effective, The Ghost Of Ohio struggles to even get there half of the time.
At least if the presentation hit with some force it could undercut these issues somewhat, but the overall anonymous sense of bluster that serves as the album’s primary base rarely picks up the mileage to do that. More often than not, the desire to come across as swelling and epic overtakes instrumental inspiration, and between the fluffed-up bombast of The Promise and Soul Like Me that – besides a marginally-interesting saxophone detour in the former – have nothing to offer besides percussive pop emptiness and the clattering drops of Feast And Famine that bring everything skidding to an unworkably heavy halt, ideas rarely coalesce into much that’s meaningfully creative. Even veering into territory that’s more sharply defined can feel hit-or-miss; there’s a nice sense of sharpness to the strut of Westwood Road and Know One, and the more energetic pop-rock of The Wind & Spark feels like the most solid approximation of Biersack’s ideas here, but when placed next to a track like Heroes We Were that hits somewhere between the most sterile, unthreatening indie-folk imaginable and royalty-free Kickstarter music, the drop in quality is palpable. There’s the sense of an album that wants to fit the companion piece mould to the level where it can afford to play it safe or take fewer risks, except the final product seems to – inadvertently or not – go down every route to disprove that theory it can. Topped off with a production job that only tamps everything down to an even less effective level (classic John Feldmann), The Ghost Of Ohio just seems to coast by with little ambition beyond hitting the bare minimum.
It gets to the point where the occasional spikes in quality feel like flukes above anything else, especially when the main setting seems to be to get in and out with as little hassle as possible. It’s hardly an ideal creative process, especially when the end product is as lifeless and ultimately boring as this, but it underlines the fact that, right now, none of Biersack’s musical projects have legs to go far beyond the relatively narrow catchment they’ve already accumulated. For a man who was once touted as modern rock’s next great frontman, The Ghost Of Ohio feels like a wasted opportunity to do something even remotely resonant, and besides the small group of devotees who’ll at least think this is worth a listen, this will be a distant, fading memory in a year at the very, very most.
For fans of: Black Veil Brides, Sleeping With Sirens, Set It Off
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Ghost Of Ohio’ by Andy Black is out now on Republic Records.