When Ben Cooper performs with Alex Kane, the end product is attributed to Electric President. When Cooper decides to work solo, the end product is credited to Radical Face, a homespun collage of dark, precise, and ornately arranged pop songs comprised of equal parts inspiration and overindulgence.
While Ghost paints Cooper as a fairly worthy performer and a talent that’s justified in keeping an eye on, it also shows him needing some additional inspiration outside the studio.
It’s telling that Cooper chose to release Ghost, his first solo effort ever, under a name other than his own: there’s so little of Cooper’s soul to be found in it. This is a collection of smart decorations and low-fi pretension, wrapped in an obvious computer monitor glow and editing software. He needs to consider how lifeless it all must sound when both the subject matter and the recording technique all start from the same cold place.
There are moments when Cooper tries to coyly suggest an organic upbringing (floors creak, birds sing, kids play and acoustic guitars strum) but these moments strike a thoroughly intentional pose, and ones aided by click-tracks and endless editing power. I’d be willing to bet the cost of this package that there is not one first-take on here.
And then there’s the obvious limitation of Cooper’s voice, which morphs from an innocent, barely audible element to one of noticeable annoyance by the time the disc reaches the halfway point.
The more I listened to Ghost, the more I started to distance myself from it. If you were to ask me my opinion of it after the first, second, or third spin I would have seemed smitten with Cooper’s clever shell-game of subtle sound effects and audio trickery. But after spending some time with Ghost, I’m starting to feel a little used. Cooper uses a down-to-earth approach to the point where you can see how fabricated the idea of organic is to him. What’s even more frustrating is the pointless garbage that litters the material. There’s a pretty good melody in the song “The Strangest Things” and other tracks, but I’ll be goddamned if you can find it underneath the layers of xylophones, piano, guitar string scrapes and faux record scratches that’s strew around the mix.
There are plenty of unforgettable moments like this throughout Ghost, songs of legitimate beauty completely ruined because someone forgot to tell Cooper that you don’t really need to use every single track available to you in the studio.
The only ghost you’ll find on Radical Face’s debut is the one that Ben Cooper created while smothering a potentially great album to death.