"Paperback Ghosts" opens with the soft strum of "Long After Tonite's Candles Are Blown," a melancholic yet hopeful ode to living life under the shadow of death's finality. Featuring the chorus, "We are holding onto life because heaven is a lie," lyricist David Bower strays far from the commonplace naivety of twee pop.
"Paperback Ghosts" reaps the benefits of this thematic shift and newfound perspective. Within simplistic indie-pop song structures hide lyrics concerning loss, longing and a lifetime's worth of regret. While tracks like "Behind the House She Lived In" and "'Sad Love' And Other Stories" contain moments of genuine nostalgia, this underlying sadness pervades the majority of the album. Comet Gain manages to approach desolation and heartbreak with a bittersweet optimism, averting self-indulgent wallowing and overwrought melodrama.
More than 20 years into its career, Comet Gain maintains its ability to excite and surprise. "An Orchid Stuck Inside Her Throat" establishes itself as the most affecting moment in the Comet Gain catalogue; no small task alongside two decades worth of heart-on-sleeve songwriting. Pairing the hardships of a nameless protagonist with a gliding waltz, "Orchid" illustrates both Bower's prowess as a storyteller and Comet Gain's overlooked musicianship. After the final strains of "Orchid" fade to a close, the listener is abruptly met with the clumsy guitar chords of "Confessions of a Daydream." Evoking the sound of Comet Gain's salad days, "Daydream" is a natural conclusion to an album of blurry-eyed glimpses into the past.
"Paperback Ghosts" is a remarkable album from a veteran act, treading familiar territory without sounding tired, exploring despair without feeling bleak and approaching its subject matter with unmatched sincerity. Having outlived the breadth of its counterparts, Comet Gain continues to impress in its second decade.