My favorite 100 albums of all time: #11 ("Safe Travels")

"Safe Travels" album coverJukebox the Ghost set the bar high with their debut album Live and Let Ghosts, and their follow-up Everything Under the Sun. With Safe Travels they completely clear the bar, and then some.

Jukebox the Ghost is a relative newcomer on the music scene, especially compared with a lot of bands on this list. Their first studio album was released in 2008, and they've been a frenzy of touring and recording since. A three piece outfit, JtG features a drummer, keyboardist, and guitarist/bassist. Ben Thornewill (keyboards) and Tommy Siegel (guitar/bass) trade off on vocal duties, and drummer Jesse Kristin mostly sticks to the sticks.

JtG is indie / power pop at its finest. They've absorbed more than 50 years of rock and pop influences and have taken it and brought something new to the table.

I was eager to get hands on Safe Travels when it was released, and I was not disappointed at all. From the first notes of "Somebody," I was hooked.

"Oh Emily," has some really prominent drum-work at the top of the mix, and great harmonies. Pure upbeat pop here, absolute ear candy.

In a similar vein to Colin Hay's "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin," "At Last" tells a story of dreamers who haven't yet connected.

As a certified curmudgeon and introvert, "Say When" speaks to me on a very deep level. This one's about being tired of social situations and wanting to leave the party with the other person who also wants to get the fuck out. Love the keyboard break here, and the build to the climax.

"Don't Let Me Fall Behind" has a majestic feel to it – it reminds me of something that would have been on a mid-70s Queen album. Dynamic, alternating between grandiose and intimate.

There's a fair bit of thinking about mortality on Safe Travels. "Dead" asks the question, "if you're dead, how do you know if you are really dead?" And then demands "a unique exit from this world" from God at the halfway point. Here the wheels come off the wagon and the song moves from a slower and contemplative mode to near-cacophony, and into a damned decent jam. "If you're there God, see to it."

On a slightly lighter note than death, there's the realization that you will die. "Adulthood" is the song I play to anybody new to Jukebox the Ghost. Or to anybody who'll listen really. Or I'll just put it on if I'm alone and feel like hearing it again. What I'm saying is that I absolutely love this song beyond all reason.

First, it's bouncy pop perfection. Not saccharine at all, but infectious and full of life. Thornewill delivers his best falsetto here, and tears up the keyboard. But it's also a damn pithy, poignant song. I love the lyrics, wistfully embracing mortality and empathy for everyone else:

Ten billion feet
Pounding at the ground each week
Every secret, every burden they keep

Each one's waiting on the chance
To be lifted off the ground but then
To discover that we'll all be dust again

And I dare you to survive
Being grown for the rest of your life
From adulthood no one survives

We all suffer, we all long to be childlike again, and we're all going to die. Fuck it, let's sing!

"Man in the Moon," is a sweet piece that starts with acoustic guitar and strings. Presumably about a long distance or failed relationship, it's kind and lovely.

Closing out the album, "The Spiritual" begs for an extended mix. Starting A Capella and then bringing in hand claps, it is a soulful and moving finale to the album. If you see Jukebox the Ghost live and they don't play this, demand your money back. Or keep seeing them until they do play it.

It only took one or two listens to Safe Travels for it to become a solid favorite of mine, and the four years since haven't changed my opinion in the slightest. I can only hope that JtG continues to crank out work this spectacular.

Author: Joe Brockmeier

Joe Brockmeier is a long-time participant in open source projects and former technology journalist. Brockmeier has worked as the openSUSE Community Manager, is an Apache Software Foundation (ASF) member, and participates heavily in the Fedora Cloud Working Group. Brockmeier works for Red Hat in the Open Source and Standards (OSAS) and manages the community team.

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