Perennial RSTB faves Cool Ghouls return, releasing their sound from the ‘60s psych-pop tethers that have bound them in the past and pushing on into the arms of ‘80s power pop, rough-tousled AOR boogie, and ‘70s lost weekend studio sessions with infinite budgets. Not that the band themselves are living off the label’s extended credit, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sound like it. At George’s Zoo was actually recorded in much more humble surroundings, finding the band holed up in Robby Joseph’s makeshift garage studio, Outer Sunset, that’s documented on the album’s cover. What the band do bring from the kinds of ‘70s sessions that seemed to stretch on for months and ring the label’s bar tab for all it was worth is a sense of ease and room to experiment. With space to stretch the band’s sound isn’t working a tight-wound pop spring, instead letting the hooks slow burn over the course of the album and indulging themselves in touches like strings, horn sections, and tumble-down outros.
They cover a wide swath of inspirational ground — moving from late Nazz / early Rundgren solo years to post-Brian R&B Beach Boys and even the luxurious confines of The Moody Blues’ orchestral pop. The band ties it together with a touch that belies their time playing together, making the stylistic shifts feel as natural as the DJ’s hand on the radio waves, moving through a top 40 foam that’s familiar, yet feels like it hasn’t been hammered into your drive-time 5 days a week. The Ghouls have been remarkably consistent in their catalog, creating a trove of songs that bear an indelible mark of cut-out bin diggers and deep cut curators. The DNA of timeless pop is woven into every Cool Ghouls recording, but the more time that I spend with At George’s Zoo it becomes apparent that this is the band looking to create something bigger and more solid than they ever have before. It’s a record that’s hard to pry off the table once it lands there and I’d recommend letting it linger until it seeps into the skin.
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