Review Summary: A very generic and predictable outing from one of the most creative guitarists around, shockingly lackluster (due to the painfully repetitive guitar riffs, bland weirdness and the lack of guitar leads), but with some deeply emotional clean playing.
NOTE: this is by no means a bad record, since it blows the vast majority of everything else the music business has to offer out of the water... but... I know that many folks will be truly stunned by this review, but I consider Pepper’s Ghost to be Buckethead’s worst album in years... after many a listen, and even more pondering, I just come to the conclusion that this CD doesn’t really have anything truly stunning to offer, unlike his other works. Now, before you all draw your pitchforks, light your torches and start pursuing me, let me try to convince you that at least a few of my views might not be complete blasphemy... and this will not be an easy task, considering how much the vast majority of Buckethead’s fan base loves this album.
Once Crime Slunk Scene was released, I couldn’t help but hope that Big B’s excursion to mainstream-music-land was over, and some of the tracks he committed (“Soothsayer”, “The Fairy and the Devil”) were likeable enough to make up for the seemingly temporary digression. The greater was my disappointment when I got my hands on Pepper’s Ghost... This is, by far, Buckethead’s most mainstream-sounding record till now (October 2007). That is not really a bad thing, since it helped me appreciate Crime Slunk Scene more, plus it’ll get some folks that do not dive too deep into unconventional music into Buckethead. This will be hard, but I’ve got to hide my emotions and views in my pocket and focus on the music at hand and not what I feel.
The riffage is some of the worst we’ve heard Big B put out on record... he’s got another generic riff style, after the “Jump Man” motifs that go so well with the killswitch, and “Funnel Weaver” baritone grunt, but this is the worst bunch he’s conceived yet, since it sounds like hundreds of other bands that are/were doing exactly the same thing. Even if the riffs occasionally groove or rock as intended (“Carpal Tunnel Slug”, “Brewer in the Air”), the majority of them is pretty much a waste of space, and two nice rockers won’t save the other ‘groovy’ tracks. The man with the mask should have done way better... and not just milk “Buddy Berkman’s Ballad” and “The Fairy and the Devil” – actually, one riff from “Magua’s Scalp” is WAY too similar to a part of the first song mentioned... I have no idea why the hell is Buckethead doing this. Perhaps he’s just growing old – he’s almost forty, and that might slowly change the creative juices flowing inside of him. Maybe he is trying to please his fans after the Crime Slunk Scene hype, but I have a different theory. He’s been dropping hints that he wants to do this record all over the place for the past couple of years, and now that he’s got it out of his system, maybe he’ll be able to refocus and turn everything upside down again with another Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock (small steps, remember, small steps... no Island of Lost Minds II or Kaleidoscalp Revisited coming our way yet). A pointer is the new Death Cube K – Mr. Buckethead is still capable of doing original stuff... so why the hell is he dabbling in such generic material?
I hate to admit it, but he actually seems to be putting himself into the music alarmingly often. The outcome is one of the truly few purely positive sides of the album – his clean breakdowns have boldly stepped up to a new level. Even I can’t complain here – when distortion’s gone, Big B effortlessly proves who’s the boss and just how heartfelt a simple arpeggio can be. Some moments, like “Imprint” (a truly marvelous piece... another solid installment in the ‘dedication series’, a track that deserves a way better record), are going to be with me forever, even if the rest of this bland album will fade from my mind... As I said, this is by no means a bad record, and the soft moments really are superb. It’s a pity they have to be squeezed between those ultra-bullcrap riffs mentioned before...
Even though the album sounds mainstream as hell, after track eight Buckethead does indeed relax a little and add a touch of weirdness to the mix. The outcome is rather uninspiring, since “The Hills Have Headcheese” sounds bland, even with all the unusual harmony, and “Callbox” has immense wasted potential... “Embalming Plaza” is a very nice change, but one nice ambient song won’t save a record. Note the fact that I didn’t even mention the title track here – while some folks consider it to be Inbred Mountain-ish in sound, I don’t see any relation whatsoever.
I actually saved the worst for last – this album’s got exactly one (yes, ONE) song with a solo in it... I’m not counting “Bag Some Game” here, since it’s just a minute of filler ‘shred’ (note the quotation marks – Buckethead seems completely out of shape, he slops up even at a way lower tempo than we’ve heard him reach before), and some other underperformed licks in “The Hills Have Headcheese” and “Callbox”. I mean “Carpal Tunnel Slug” – two very nice leads with a tone to die for – the weathered big muff sounds like the type of distortion that J Mascis would come up with, plus Buckethead’s uncanny skill at playing the axe create a sound that is rather similar to a saxophone (I was caught off guard the first time I listened to the CD, and still occasionally fall for it)... would it really have been that hard to solo something up over all, well, at least some, of those dear riffs, Mr. B? Maybe it would have helped them get their point across better, judging how it lifted up “Carpal Tunnel Slug”? The rhythm guitar alone doesn’t make a song melodic, you know? Oh wait, you do... (goes off to listen to “Interworld and the New Innocence/Animal Behavior”, 4-21-06)
Summing up, this is by no means a bad album. It’s just a very generic and mainstream outing from one of the most creative and talented musicians around, and I can’t help but wonder why exactly did he decide to do this. Even if the tunes have their moments, particularly when it’s breakdown time, they just seem to be (slightly) modified clones of each other, all tracing back to the same ancestors. Even if a bit of weirdness enters the mix later on, it’s lackluster itself and does not offer enough creative power to balance the unoriginal material. And, to top it off, there is not enough melody here, since the lead guitar is absent the vast majority of the time, and the rhythm parts themselves do not offer a lot of it. This might be a good place to start for fresh-from-mainstream-music noobs, but I’m going to keep away from the majority of this album. I apologize. I tried. I just don’t get it.