April 4, 2024

These songs may be like ghosts from the past, but they are a timely reminder of the greatness of Blue Öyster Cult.

Just a few months back Blue Öyster Cult released the first of a planned triptych of 50th anniversary live concerts. Now, hot on its tail is the first studio album since 2020’s The Symbol Remains.  Before Cult diehards get too excited, I should point out that this is not a set of newly written songs.  What we get instead is material that was originally put down as demos in the band’s fertile period 1978-83. This might sound like a typical lazy job of digging any old rubbish out of the vaults, transferring the analogue recordings to digital, and putting them out there, warts and all, but that is not the case here. The demos are not only lovingly restored and remixed but additional overdubs have been added to complete the songs and bring them fully to life. That creates the unusual scenario where band members are contributing to the same track twice, forty years or more apart!  As well as the present band members being involved in the overdubs, original band members for these demos, Joe and Albert Bouchard, came back to contribute, so in the end Ghost Stories is close to being a rediscovered Blue Öyster Cult album from the classic period, and with the classic lineup. Comparing it to the four official studio releases in that 1978-83 period, in my view Ghost Stories doesn’t reach the levels of Fire Of Unknown Origin or The Revölution by Night but it is more than a match for Mirrors and Cultösaurus Erectus.

Two track titles will leap out as familiar to fans: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and Kick Out The Jams, both ‘60s classics recorded originally by The Animals and MC5 respectively, and both immortalised on Blue Öyster Cult’s 1978 live album Some Enchanted Evening.  They are two well-rounded interpretations, neither of them straying far from the original. The commercial punchiness of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and the raw rock’n’roll of Kick Out The Jams must have been strong early influences on the group since they don’t sound at all out of place amidst the band-penned numbers.

Of the songs that see the light of day for the first time, three stand out for me. The first of these is So Supernatural which begins with that typical unhurried gait that the band adopted for songs like Nosferatu before moving into a typical rhythmic verse and catchy chorus along with plenty of layered harmonies. It’s undeniably classic Blue Öyster Cult.  The second song that stands out is The Only Thing. This one is a languid pop ballad, beautifully sung by Roeser, with a simple lilting singalong refrain that really could have made it into a hit single. Finally, the third is Gun which is typical melodic rocker, reminiscent of the material on their early ‘70s albums.

It may be coincidence, but the above three songs are the only ones that breach the four-minute mark which might indicate that at the time of the original recordings these three were more advanced in their development than others. There are still plenty of striking ideas in some of the other tracks though including the curious sound world of Late Night Street Fight which has an almost swing feel to it, Soul Jive where the band go full funk, and the ‘80s AOR sound of Don’t Come Running To Me. The album closes with a recording by the current iteration of the band – a cover of If I Fell by the Beatles. It’s a pleasant enough acoustic ballad although it could be seen as an odd way to close the album. There again, time moves on, and the odds are that this will be the last studio release by the band, so maybe they just wished to tip the hat to the most influential band in the history of rock.

As well as a musical treat for fans of Blue Öyster Cult, there are also visual ones in the music videos for Don’t Come Running to Me and So Supernatural. The latter, in which the house was AI generated (feeding the Imaginos cover into the AI machine, it seems), has plenty of references to Cult songs and albums that fans will delight in identifying.

While The Symbol Remains was an excellent album, it was never going to match the creativity or originality of the band in their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday, and so it really is a joy to see this old material surfacing.  These songs may be like ghosts from the past, but they are a timely reminder of the greatness of Blue Öyster Cult.