Ghostwriters, Political Animal (Sony/BMG, 2007)

Ghostwriters started in 1991 as a side project for Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Hoodoo Gurus bassist Rob Grossman. Even though Midnight Oil broke up in 2002 and the Gurus have had an extended hiatus as well (they did re-unite in 2004), the Ghostwriters reconvene only occasionally. Political Animal, the fourth Ghostwriters album, is primarily a compilation, with four new songs followed by remixes of older material.

The singing and songwriting in Ghostwriters are done almost entirely by Hirst. Hirst also plays more guitar than drums on this CD -- like Phil Collins and Dave Grohl, he discovered that it's hard to front a band from behind the kit, no matter how good of a drummer you happen to be. Drummer Lee Moloney and guitarist/keyboardist D.C. are carryovers from the last Ghostwriters CD Fibromoon (from 1999), and Midnight Oil guitarist Martin Rotsey has just been added as well.

The opening song and single "Start the Day" is a hard-edged diatribe about current political events, in keeping with the kind of songs Hirst wrote for Midnight Oil. The other strong new track is "Follow the Leader," which could be about the Australian people's acceptance of the Prime Minster John Howard's government as Howard led them off a cliff, or possibly about Howard's eagerness to fall in line with President Bush's agenda. (Since this album was made, not only did Howard's party lose its majority in Parliament in a general election, causing Labor party leader Kevin Rudd to take Howard's place as Prime Minister, but Howard couldn't even win re-election to the seat in his home district. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and the Arts in Rudd's new Cabinet is Peter Garrett, whom Hirst and Rotsey know very well.)

There is always a bit of a danger to mixing new material with old material, though, because the new material has to justify the purchase of the full CD to long-time fans. And indeed, the four new songs aren't quite as good as what follows. Five songs are taken from the Ghostwriters' strongest album, 1997's Second Skin. Classic songs like "Impossible Shame" and "Not My Time" are on the same level as Midnight Oil's best songs. Of course, it's very tempting to wonder how these songs would have sounded if Hirst had brought them to the Oils. Only one song each from the first Ghostwriters album and Fibromoon were re-mixed for inclusion on this CD. The album does include as a bonus track the original version of "Someone's Singing New York, New York," the very first Ghostwriters' single.

Political Animal is not an easy album to rate. On one hand, the new material by itself would warrant a B or B+. Most people in the U. S. are entirely unfamiliar with the Ghostwriters' back catalog, though, and even I've had to make do with a taped copy of Second Skin. So for practical purposes, Political Animal might as well be treated as an album of wholly new material for listeners in this country, and I've decided to rate it accordingly.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

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