In a move that shouldn’t have surprised anyone given the band’s long-standing modesty, the sudden appearance of new music from Rise Against still feels like it came out of nowhere. The Ghost Note Symphonies Vol 1 (Sony), effectively a Rise Against unplugged album, arrives with little if any, fanfare but, as with many Rise Against records, it deserves your quiet and rapt attention as what they have delivered here is a record of quiet grace, emotion, and elan.
One could be forgiven for wondering why the band have chosen to tread this fairly well-established path of the pared back, stripped-down, look-we-can-write-really-good-songs album because Rise Against don’t need to prove this, do they? Tim McIlwraith has more tunes in his locker than he knows what to do with and Rise Against’s art has never been impaired with being overwrought or overly complex.
Consequently, one could be forgiven for assuming that this is a stop-gap record, an exercise in treading water until the band gets around to recording the follow up to the last “proper” Rise Against record, the criminally overlooked Wolves. Actually, that would be to do this record a disservice.
Ghost Note Symphonies is a delight. It may not be quite in the league of the “oh, so THIS is what they might have done next” of Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York (Geffen) opus but, then again, what is? Ghost Note Symphonies is a record that is wickedly deceiving and delightful in equal measure. There is familiarity with the melodies but the joy in this record is that the melancholy, heartache, and rage that we can hear in the original versions comes through here with quiet grace and resolute determination.
The use of mandolin on the reworked ‘Faint Resemblance’ has echoes of mid-period R.E.M. and the gentle, rocking rhythms of ‘House on Fire’ breathe new, fresh vigour into already familiar melodies, adding warmth and sweetness, without ever being cloying or trying too hard. ‘Miracle’ and ‘Savior’ are both standout tracks here. There was nothing much wrong with them in the first place of course but with a delivery that is passionate and emotional allied to acoustic guitars and a production that has the vocals high in the mix, the effect is beguiling and resonant.
If I am being honest, my expectations for this record were not that high. I should have known better. The old adage that less is more is particularly apposite, here. This may be pared back and easy to listen to but, be assured, the rage and focus that one usually associates with Rise Against is resolutely intact. Volume two please and make it double quick, gentlemen.