Whilst The Boxer Rebellion is correctly defined as an “international” indie alternative rock band; there are many things which make the Tennessee-native vocalist Nathan Nicholson distinctly British. Growing up, Nicholson recalled being “into a lot of British music” which was “not exactly what a lot of people in (his) high school were listening to…” Once he arrived in the UK he was able to quickly form a band. The two other original English members in The Boxer Rebellion line-up remain in the band. But most of all is his defence of English cooking. Following in the steps of George Orwell, who in 1945 defended amongst many things, English “puddings”, Nicholson, in response to the cliché that the food in London is terrible, replied, “That is completely the wrong idea”. He went further saying “There are some really good places to eat here. I recommend it.” The band’s recent live show at the Islington Assembly Hall definitely whetted fans appetites; the question is, what dishes Ghost Alive, the bands’ sixth album, will serve up.
With an unsophisticated and an undramatic entrance and basic strumming of an acoustic guitar; What the Fuck opens Ghost Alive. What the Fuck, being the oldest of the new songs develops to become “a very poignant song”. Its underlying message to “Accept the gifts you’re given and accept it ends too soon” cannot be understated.
Ghost Alive is definitely the mellowest LP The Boxer Rebellion have produced, making departures from their previous five LP’s. The electric guitars and bass also share the limelight with an impressive string section including but not limited to a harp, flugelhorn and trombone. The musical influences on this record are many; probably more on this album than there are on their back catalogue. There are elements from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Monsters of Folk, Fleet Foxes, Beirut and Villagers. Ghost Alive is however not a cut and paste project from a range of acclaimed artists; Nicholson’s vocals sound more distinguished and confident than ever and the band collectively take ownership of their sound.
The poignancy of the lyrics doesn’t end at What the Fuck. Love Yourself offers some good advice that can be followed and is essential to life: “You told yourself I’d write a letter today Tell the world that you would hurt yourself Can’t look in the mirror much less anyone else. If you just ask for help, if you just ask for help. First thing I’ll say is you gotta love yourself”. Under Control offers the best lyrics with: “You don’t get what you deserve when you are lost and alone from the way we were”. Playout track Goodnight will naturally trigger some retrospective emotions: “Why did we leave it like this. It’s never the pain we miss. And I regret leaving it this way leaving it here instead of leaving these things unsaid”.
With Nathan Nicholson having lost his mother at just eighteen, an unborn child at just twenty weeks old and his father in 2017; he is not immune grief and loss which play a significant role on this album. Nonetheless Ghost Alive is not morbid, neither does it cause trepidation and is not excessively haunting, but both calming and uplifting; making an ideal soundscape regardless of whether you are listening to it in the cemetery or on the beach.