You can stream Ghost: The Musical's Original Cast Recording right now on their Facebook page. You should. It's probably the strongest pop score since Boy George's Taboo. It's clever, it's emotional, and it actually elevates the (for some inexplicable reason to me) guilty pleasure paranormal-romance film Ghost to a level that might actually create a new appreciation for the Academy Award nominated film. Here are my notes, track by track, on what makes these songs tick. It's almost TL:DR enough to get you through the whole cast recording.
The Original Cast Recording of Ghost: The Musical: A Listening Guide
Overture: The recording starts with a very sweet little pop instrumental. There's a sadness to it, and a good bit of drama. It's small, but sweeping.
Here Right Now: I love the use of synth in this score. It's just so sweet and friendly without being cloying. Very nice uptempo love song to open the show. The two leads have phenomenal pop-theater voices. I could listen to them sing the phone book together and be happy. Lyrics are a little cliché. Key change feels a little unnecessary.
Unchained Melody: Yes, that Unchained Melody. It's an acoustic version where Sam is singing it Molly. It's very sweet. Then the vocal drops out and strings come in to to make it seem a bit more classic. It's just lovely. You couldn't do Ghost without this song.
More: This song seems out of place if you don't know what's happening on stage. If you saw the Ghost Highlights reel, this is one of the business scenes with all the people in suits. I can't confirm that it's the scene with the bright green stock ticker projections, but it feels like it would be that scene. What, with a bunch of people singing about "more" in "a numbers game" and everything like that. Which means this is the introduction of the villain of the show. It's a chill ensemble number that oozes pop theater goodness. I'm a fan.
Three Little Words: Look everyone, it's that scene in the film where we learn that Sam won't say "I love you" to Molly. Thankfully, it's a lot less trying when it's sung. Molly uses the song to try and convince Sam to say "I love you" when Sam tries to convince Molly he does without saying the words. He sings a list of things he does to prove he loves her, while she sings about needing the actual words to prove it. It's just sweet. I feel like this show could actually cause blood sugar to spike if, you know, the whole ghost aspect never happens. Thankfully, that's right around the corner. Literally. The death is the next song. Also, the counterpoint section near the end, where the different verses are combined, is lovely.
Sam's Murder: This is brutal. The whole thing uses brass and drums to build tension. It sounds like an action film, with gunshots and screaming and confusion over what's actually happening. Then you here Sam in an echo, signifying his ghostly presence, as the music gets sad and ambulances arrive. Then a ghostly choir starts a mournful four-part harmony about going into the light. When Sam realizes what happened, it's devastating. Now imagine it with all the mind-blowing projection and lighting effects that the Manchester critics raved about.
I'll stop focusing on plot in the songs now as the musical starts to diverge from the film around here.
Ball of Wax: This...feels out of place. It's a vaudeville number. The rest of the score is pop. It's all acoustic instruments/patches and sounds like it was pulled from a particularly morbid period in Cole Porter's life. The lyrics are a bit too blunt, too. And there's a tap break. A man just died and we have a tap break. What is going on here? The layered spoken word halfway through is about the only effective part to me. It's not a bad song; it just doesn't belong in this show at all. The critics agree with me and they've seen the show. The end of the song explains what the choir was during Sam's Murder. Too bad it hops right back into the actual Ball of Wax style.
I Can't Breathe: A sad ballad for Sam. The lyrics are so literal, but here the melody and arrangement actually sell the emotion of the song. Even with the echo on the vocal, I'm getting chills. This is the kind of song that's going to take off in professional auditions if this show does come to Broadway. It shouldn't because it won't work with just a piano, but it will.
Are You A Believer?: The introduction to Oda Mae. It opens as a gospel number, but the sensibility matches the pop songs in the score. It's all riffing and has a strong melody. Plus, the strings, effect-driven guitar, and synth eventually kick in to make this song blend more. It also transforms into a pop song when Oda starts singing. It's a fun introduction to the character and the play between styles is strong.
With You: A sad little ballad for Molly. Very slow and plaintive. This is also the first song to start riffing on some of the elements of Unchained Melody. I think the second greatest strength of the score, behind the lovely pop arrangements, is the integration of Unchained Melody as a recurrent element in the score. Here, they spin the apreggio in the background of the original version of the song (during the verses) by only using the first half in rapid succession, changing just a little bit near the end of each lick. Hang on, I'm starting to cry again. Very strong vocal performance here.
Suspend My Disbelief/I Had a Life: This starts as a midtempo song for Molly about faith. The inclusion of some digital drum effects breaking through behind the guitar strumming is a strong choice. It's a audible metaphor of Molly's realization. The track starts to pick up into more familiar pop territory that pushes the score closer together. The song starts to pick up after a scene where the villain expresses shock over what's happening.
Then Sam pipes in to start dueting with Molly on a selection of Here I Am before it quickly shifts sad and ominous when Sam learns what actually happened during Sam's Murder. This leads to I Had a Life, which is a brutal ballad for Sam. Molly starts singing Suspend My Disbelief in her strongest moment of hope while Sam is facing his deepest despair. Villain starts singing More again.
What I'm getting at is that these distinct songs are pulled together into a very strong emotional production number for the end of Act I. This is the kind of song that guarantees people come back for Act II. Even with all the dialog and ten minute length, I could see myself listening to this removed from the full album. It's great.
Rain/Hold On: A dissonant guitar jars us back into this strange love store. Molly is determined to believe in Oda's message from Sam and won't stop until everything is right. The song is just shy of upbeat, but it feels energetic. A scene interrupts the track, briefly explaining what happened at the end of Act I. Molly is having an emotional crisis because of the villain's actions. Sam takes over the melody, trying to convince Molly to maintain hope. His vocal is breathtaking here. The arrangement actually crosses over into rock on this track, which is a nice shift from the pop-heavy first act. Also, there's some dramatic strings that sound straight out of a suspense film. This song is just brilliant. The lyrics are the best in the show. They're literal, but they actually work because they're grounded in a sudden slap of reality.
Life Turns on a Dime: The villain gets a ballad reassuring Molly here. It makes me sick, which is the intention. It would be a sweet little love song if anyone else sang it. Not him. I really like the synth pattern here. The strings kick in after leading Molly to sing an excerpt of Unchained Melody.
Focus: Sam sings another strong melody near the end, accompanied by the rapid apreggio lick from With You. Then someone else starts rapping. The drums kick in from Sam's Murder as the rap goes on. This is a plot-turning song that I believe happens during the subway scene in the trailer but I might be mistaken. It feels like it's that scene. It's not a great song, but it is solid thriller scoring, which is the point. This is an action scene in a big budget musical and it builds tension. After a moment of silence, a ringing keyboard starts playing Here I Am. This song actually reveals that part of the melody of Here I Am is actually the same as the "Hold my hand" melody in Unchained Melody. I love that.
Talkin' Bout a Miracle: An African drum lick kicks in leading to a funk-edged song about Oda's abilities. It's cute. I can only hope it doesn't slow the show down like it kind of does on this recording. It's an important plot point, but it feels awkward placed here. Plus, it's not the strongest song in the show. There are integrated riffs and elements from other songs, which is nice. It just feels like the creative team decided they needed another ensemble number and settled on one that could have been resolved in a cute little comedy scene.
Nothing Stops Another Day: A moving (literally, the band doesn't stop their fingers for a second) ballad for Molly. It's sweet, but haven't we had a lot of sweet little ballads already. Thematically, this one is different and serves a rather novel exploration of the stages of grief (a great way to look at this interpretation of Ghost, actually, and one I hope to pursue if this transfers to Broadway). The vocal is strong and emotionally different. It's just that some theater scores work better in the context of a show. We were lucky to get an entire act that works as an album on its own. Act II is a bit too plot-driven with too many missing pieces to work as well on the recording.
I'm Outta Here: Oda Mae's 11th Hour Anthem. It's an almost-disco song. I think this song just goes on too long. It really feels like it could have been a nice reflection of Sam's Act I performance of I Can't Breathe. Not everything in theater needs to go on to radio-play length. I think there's a good idea here that's brought down by repetitive lyrics. There's no evolution in this song. Almost every other song after Sam's Murder spins its purpose multiple times. This one doesn't. It does, however, have the best integration of Unchained Melody in the score. Oda starts to sing I-ee-I straight out of the original recording (same key and everything) before kicking back into her own song. It's clever and cute. I like that.
Unchained Melody (Dance)/The Love Inside: So that's what the overture was. The arrangement behind the cello playing the Unchained Melody melody is the overture. How sweet. What a nice little surprise at the end of the recording. Sam starts singing reprise of Unchained Melody and Molly joins in this time. It's just so bittersweet and the actors are killing the vocal here. I mean, you know the show can't have a real happy ending because of the entire premise, but it's still sad. After the scene you know is coming, the piano and strings kick in for a sweeping ballad that pulls elements from a few different songs in the show.
The orchestrations and arrangements are brilliant in this show. It takes a lot for me to praise someone else's orchestrations. If you do the job right, the audience shouldn't notice what you've done. They should feel it and know that the show sounds right. If you do it wrong, the show sounds terrible. But when you continually layer so many different themes together with variations on the sound effects and instrumentation, you do a brilliant job. Christopher Nightingale did phenomenal work with the music and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart, and Glen Ballard.
Are you as excited to get your copy of the OCR of Ghost: The Musical as I am? Sound off.