Review Summary: cheesy 90s friendly ghost type beat
Rather than Mourn 2.0
, what I expected from Ghost with Skin
is what we ultimately get on penultimate track ‘Reaper’. A song much like 2019's ‘Wretch’, on which Corbin eschewed Mourn
's paranoid, gothic, darkwave-inspired alt-R&B and the melancholic Keith Sweat crooning of the Spooky Black era in favour of some straight mumble shit. It’s Mourn
taken to its logical extreme – its narrative trappings undone, revealing in their wake some shuddering creature mumbling vaguely comprehensible melodies over cloudy trap beats. It’s the kind of self-parody that Corbin excels at – that blurs the line between strongly felt emotions and a kind of cynicism towards those emotions.
But whereas ‘Wretch’ existed as a loosie – one amongst many disjointed singles that helped ease the wait and bridge the gap between 2017’s Mourn
and 2021’s GWS
– ‘Reaper’ exists in the context of an album that is, yes, very dark and drab and melancholic, but otherwise very unlike ‘Wretch’. And, indeed, unlike Mourn
. Whereas Mourn
sought to explore, via a thinly-veiled, half-baked narrative, Corbin’s experience of isolation, GWS
does away with any (explicit) form of narrative and so feels, at least intuitively, far more personal. And whereas ‘Wretch’, in doing away with Mourn
’s narrative, hyperbolised the emotionality at that album’s core to an extent that felt almost unreal, GWS
is nothing if not hyperreal.
Of course, the extent to which Corbin is playing a character remains unclear. Despite the singer’s newfound earnestness, he fails to totally do away with his penchant for ironic distance which is, at this point, a part of his brand. (Throughout the album, he takes on a higher register that is borderline mocking in tone. On ‘ctrl alt delete’, he sings the line ‘Baby, know it’s hard to believe that I have feelings too’ in a DeLonge-ian whine that’s hard not to read as anything less than an aural eyeroll.) Likewise, he maintains across the album his penchant for pathos, analogising (and often treating as interchangeable) his substance abuse to that of a toxic relationship. On ‘Scab’, he paints a picture of this relationship as one of abuse and codependence, playing on the ambiguity of the word ‘drive’ when describing, in a throwaway line, his partner ‘driving’ him to the clinic. Similarly, on ‘ctrl alt delete’, he equates being away from this partner to substance withdrawal; and to drive the point home on ‘Path’ sings: ‘Girl, you’re my relief, you’re my Tylenol / Got me up to speed, you’re my Adderall’.
Notwithstanding this, Corbin’s depiction of these themes is his most direct yet. Sonically, despite covering a lot of ground, GWS
lacks frills. Opener ‘Tell Me’ is the album’s biggest song. From soft synth chords and the sounds of insects at night it builds to an underwhelming climax that sees Corbin yelping over spaced-out drum hits. It’s followed by ‘Mask it to the Casket’ which, convince me otherwise, sounds like trappy Julien Baker. ‘Rambo’, a cheesy ballad, is emotionally overwhelming in the same way as last album’s ‘Something Safe’ (minus the Antwon shenanigans). And ‘Don’t Give Up’ is solo midnight karaoke for when you’re feeling just that tad bit suicidal.
From there, the album outdoes itself. Over LUM-like chimes, Corbin lets his voice break on the first verse of ‘Scab’, before delivering a big, reverb-soaked chorus and outro that are reminiscent of The Weeknd’s last album. ‘Path’, the album’s centrepiece, is heart-wrenching. Corbin adopts a vulnerable falsetto that is the sound of rock bottom, and over a basic guitar loop rife with YT live pedal improv cover potential sings, tragically: ‘I don’t mind getting wasted, you already see through me… / I’m just gonna play dead and hope you exhume me’. Late album highlight ‘ion care’ sounds like it’s from a totally different album by a totally different artist (6 dogs maybe). And, of course, there’s ‘Reaper’, which, as mentioned, is borderline parodic – Corbin’s pitched-down vocals giving voice, with absolute lack of clarity, to a suicidality underlying the rest of the album. The song says the quiet part loud, and you still don’t hear it.
What you do hear is Corbin at his best, his least laboured. It’s been four years since Mourn
, and over a year since he announced an EP that’s yet to be released, and probably never will be. In many ways, GWS
is a return to the Spooky Black era, embodying some of the aspects of the cloud trap genre into which he is so often lumped. In more ways, it is absolutely nothing like Black Silk
. Nor, despite their thematic similarities, is it much like Mourn
. It feels much realer than that album – like Corbin’s finally grown comfortable in his artist’s skin (at least, as comfortable as any modern musician should be). Counterintuitively, Mourn
’s use of narrative had the effect of further mythologising an artist who never wanted to be mythologised. Hopefully, GWS
has the opposite effect – of painting a portrait of an artist that is not only human, but all too so.