Ghost of Hope
You’ve heard of The Residents, but maybe you’ve missed some of their 80-plus albums of Avant-garde weirdness. This reclusive San Francisco-based band mixes exciting musical concepts with occasionally annoying sounds but they’ve built a solid fan base that listens to sounds that go where no pop radio stations has ever gone before. Ghost of Hope is a concept album based on seven disastrous train wrecks but it’s really no more offbeat than any other Residents project, but clearly more morbid.
All 7 of these tracks concern fatal railroad accidents, now forgotten by all but historians. A chanting vocal, recreated interviews with the victims, and the sounds of crashing steel and cooking flesh fill up the background. A helpful color booklet offers historical details, and they are chilling. “The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918” explores the Hammond Circus disaster; an engineer deadheading a different train to Chicago falls asleep and plows into the sleeping cars of a circus, killing over 80 humans and even more trained animals. Few bodies were recovered and even fewer were identified. Those old train cars were wooded and lit with kerosene. “The Crash at Crush” visits a famous stunt in Waco, Texas in 1896, here a promoter ran two steam engines together at 40 mph each. Three people were killed and dozens maimed by the steam boiler explosion, but promoter George Crush was never punished.
The body count grows: an Indian elephant was killed defending it’s territory against a newly laid tracks in India via “Train Vs. Elephant”, and oil spill burns passenger cars to ashes in “Shroud of Flames”. “Killed at a Crossroad” a couple dies in a Model T in Pennsylvania stalled on a track and are revealed as con artists. Dead ones albeit, but con artists none the less. While the stories are gruesome, the Residents’ weird chanting vocals and odd time signatures shield us from the details. Instead of projecting disgust, these songs disconnect from reality and just register as old campfire ghost stories. It’s one of the most coherent concept albums I’ve ever heard. True, it’s a brutally weird concept, but it is executed cleanly and coherently.